Fueling the ‘concerned scientist’

As the gap between science fact and science fiction narrows, thanks to the astounding strides being made in scientific research and development, the need for communicating accurate facts to government and social institutions is critical to the successful adoption of new technologies that can solve social and environmental problems.

Oct 1st, 2005

Gail Overton

As the gap between science fact and science fiction narrows, thanks to the astounding strides being made in scientific research and development, the need for communicating accurate facts to government and social institutions is critical to the successful adoption of new technologies that can solve social and environmental problems. Is global warming real? Will stem-cell research yield miraculous cures? Just how much alternative-energy development will be needed when the oil runs dry? A number of organizations working to address these questions offer online newsletters and resources that allow the “concerned scientist” to understand the issues, and possibly, even urge them to participate in some meaningful way.

www.ucsusa.org

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) describes itself on its Web site as “Citizens and Scientists for Environmental Solutions.” The header of the site asks the reader to “pick an issue” by selecting from the food, vehicles, environment, energy, and security drop-down menus, read the numerous news reports and associated scientific findings, and take action in a variety of essential ways. A nonprofit alliance of more than 100,000 scientists and citizens, the UCS organization’s main work is in rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development, and effective citizen advocacy to “seek a great change in humanity’s stewardship of the Earth.”

Take global warming as an example. When selecting this category from the environment menu, an index listing approximately 25 individual links related to climate science, impacts, solutions, and climate policy is available to educate the reader with substantial factual information from scientists, including contributions from experts that support the Climate Stewardship Act being introduced to Congress. Sitting in my air-conditioned cubicle, it’s hard to be concerned about the 85°F heat and 90% humidity outside on a mid-June day in southern New Hampshire-unusual climate this time of year from what the locals tell me. But just one visit to this Web site and you may find yourself doing something as simple as writing a letter to your congressman or senator, shopping from the www.greatergood.com Web site, or better yet, following the “Resources” links at the end of the index and utilizing Global Warming Materials for Educators, or even becoming a member of the Sound Science Initiative.

The UCS online activist network makes it easy to communicate directly with the people making critical decisions that affect our planet. It helps ensure that policy makers get timely, accurate information to help them make decisions that will protect and improve the health and safety of our environment globally, nationally and in communities throughout the United States.

www.sgr.org.uk

Like the UCS, Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is an organization that promotes ethical science and technology, carries out research, education, and lobbying in science and technology, and provides a support network for ethically concerned scientists.

The main categories of interest listed on the SGR Web site are arms control, climate change and energy, science policy, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and population, consumption, and values. While SGR acknowledges that science is part of the solution to the world’s problems, it has also been part of the cause.

SGR’s two main activities at the moment center on science and the military, and ethical careers in science. In the former, it has just published a report, “Soldiers in the Laboratory,” that argues for a reduction in the large amount of military involvement in science and technology; in the latter, it provides information and advice to science/engineering students on careers with a social/environmental/peace aim.

www.inesglobal.com

An organization concerned with communicating to the global community rather than primarily within the U.S. or the U.K., the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility (INES) is a not-for-profit group that uses its Web site to communicate information about the projects it is working on. By clicking on the projects tab, you’ll find the “What’s new in INES (WNII)” link that details current issues of concern and how the reader can respond.

A timely example of the way this organization can effectively rally a call-to-action for scientists is its initiation of an “Appeal against the inclusion of armament provision in the proposed European Union constitution.” The appeal asked that the constitution be rejected because of its permanent armament obligation for all member states and the formation of a European armament agency. INES instead calls for the establishment of a European Office for Disarmament and Civil Conflict Prevention, and is concerned that the armament provision is a dangerous trend toward militarization of the E.U. To date, France and The Netherlands have rejected the constitution.

For an excellent list of organizations that appeal to the “concerned scientist” in other countries including the U.S. and the E.U., as well as in Russia, Pakistan, Japan, Canada, Australia, and even Senegal, see the “Links” tab at the INES site.

www.thebulletin.org

The establishment of the UCS in 1969, the SGR in 1992, and INES in 1991 may indicate that being a “concerned scientist” is a relatively recent phenomenon. But if you begin to focus on a smaller category within the broad scope of these organizations, such as nuclear science, you’ll find that ethics in science and technology can roughly be traced back to the advent of the atom bomb. Possibly the oldest publication of its kind concerned with the use of nuclear weapons, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist was founded in 1945 by scientists at the University of Chicago who worked on the Manhattan Project.

While the Web site is primarily devoted to the magazine itself, be sure to check out the “Web Only Content,” including Web Logs, the BulletinWire newsletter, Gallery, and Online Resources. Also, be sure to read about the movement over time of the hands of the “doomsday clock” toward and away from midnight (representing nuclear annihilation). Perhaps we should all become concerned scientists-the current time is seven minutes to midnight!

Every other month, associate editor Gail Overton presents her view of what the World Wide Web offers optics and photonics engineers, researchers, and technical professionals. Topics will help readers identify Web sites that provide links to tutorials, software and design resources, tips on locating employment opportunities or grants, and countless other online resources of interest. To share your best Web site finds with our readers, please contact Gail Overton at gailo@pennwell.com.

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