“For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction” – Newton’s Third Law of Motion is simple, elegant and clear.

Unfortunately, it is also one of many basic scientific facts that are frighteningly unknown among the general population of a country that, on the whole, seems to have forgotten the way things work.

And that is dangerous.

“The 21st Century economy will demand a level of science and technology literacy among all of our citizens and especially among our legislators,” says West Virginia University Provost Michele Wheatly. “This revolution embraces everyone, not just those traditionally associated with these disciplines and professions.”

So WVU is taking action by holding its first science communication symposium, Science & Technology in Society: Effective Communication Strategies.

The University hopes its action will result in the reaction of a more informed public that can effectively participate in making decisions that affect us all.

The symposium, scheduled for April 5 in the Mountainlair student union, will present a regional audience with topics and experiences as diverse as the participants. The event is free, but pre-registration, available here, is required for most events.

“The symposium is timely for WVU given the critical importance of science, technology, engineering and math fields to the 2020 Strategic Plan,” Wheatly said. “Broadening the conversation to non-STEM fields is an important next step.”

As she was putting together the symposium, WVU graduate Molly Simis found that events dedicated to explaining science to a wide audience are a rarity in the nation, which makes it all the more necessary.

“It’s really important because there’s a lack of critical thinking being taught in public schools, and there’s a lot of misunderstandings of what science is and how we as individuals can be involved in science and technology policy,” she said.

“Understanding the current scientific and technological issues is integral to living in the 21st Century.”

The symposium is intended for students of all ages, teachers, faculty, policy makers, boards of education and members of the media as well as the general public.

The day will include workshops targeted to specific groups and the public, a Festival of Ideas lecture, a student poster session and the presentation of a new award recognizing efforts in promoting the understanding of science.

The David C. Hardesty Jr. 2011 Festival of Ideas will present speaker Sheril Kirshenbaum to discuss her book “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future” at 7:30 p.m.

Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. She strives to enhance public understanding of energy issues and works to improve communication between scientists, policymakers and the public. Registration is not required for this event.

The newly established Harley Kilgore Award will be presented during lunch. The Harley Kilgore Award for Promoting Public Understanding of Science and Research, which consists of a medallion and honorarium, is accepting nominations until Feb. 15. The award recognizes achievement in promoting public understanding of science and research.

Undergraduate and graduate students at WVU and other institutions are invited to participate in a poster session at the symposiums. Abstracts may be submitted here. The posters must be in the areas of science, technology, engineering or mathematics and will be assessed on content, design and readability for a non-expert audience. The deadline for submission is Feb. 15.

The workshop lineup includes:

  • A Citizen Science Plenary, presented by members of the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology Network, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The organization – made up of policy research organizations, science museums and universities – works to inform government and society on the social implications of scientific and technological discoveries. The session will include a panel lecture and a look into how ECAST conducts assessments on the impacts of technology.
  • Brian Dunning, the host of the award-winning weekly science podcast “Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena,” will present two workshops intended as introductions to pseudoscience and critical thinking. Superintendents around the state may nominate middle school and high school classes to virtually attend these lectures.
  • Policy directors and scientists from the National Center for Science Education will present workshops on the process of science and scientific controversy as well as a presentation on Media Skills for Scientists.
  • Members of the media and student journalists can attend a workshop on Talking to the Scientist.
  • WVU Assistant Professor Michelle Withers in WVU’s biology department will discuss the best practices of science education for teachers.
  • Researchers from the Science Policy Assessment on Research and Climate will present a workshop targeted for policy makers called “Usable Science: A Center for Science and Technology Policy Research-Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes Briefing Workshop on Science for Decision Making.”

A complete schedule of events can be found here.

Follow the symposium on Twitter with #wvuSciSymposium.



CONTACT: Molly Simis, Office of the President

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.