This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst
When sharing science with diverse publics representing a broad swath of cultural, ethnic, ideological and socioeconomic interests, it certainly helps when those doing the sharing are themselves representative of a diverse cross-section of society.
In a recent The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Ecological Society of America (ESA) President Steward Pickett (2011-2012) notes that the science of ecology is strengthened when a wide variety of individuals are engaged in it, bringing a diversity of values to the table. Pickett refers to science as a system consisting of three parts: 1) engaging in discovery 2) nurturing a diverse community that carries out the act of discovery and 3) connecting the science to the larger society.
“This diverse community, that’s part of the mechanism by which science works, but this diverse community is also the mechanism that connects the science, the discovery and the understanding, to the larger society…science is a system. It requires all three of those things and the community that does this complex job needs to be mutually supportive and to really understand what all this does and ESA is uniquely positioned to promote all three of the parts of the scientific process.” says Pickett.
In the podcast, he also discusses ESA’s Earth Stewardship Initiative and the Society’s efforts to advance sustainability. Pickett emphasizes that ecologists need to function as a partner amongst a network of groups and disciplines working towards a common goal. These can include religious groups, landscape designers, natural resource managers and social scientists. A diversity of people and perspectives play just as important role in advancing environmental sustainability, says Pickett, as biological diversity does in sustaining an ecosystem.
This commitment to fostering human diversity in the ecological community underscores the importance of ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, which seeks to nurture interest and development in ecology among traditionally underrepresented communities. Increasing minority participation in the sciences has been a priority at the US Department of Education and was cited in a National Academies report as key towards sustaining the nation’s global competitiveness in innovation.
As Pickett notes, promoting diversity internally should complement external outreach by scientists beyond the traditional ecological community. Science investment enjoys support in part because of the broad cross-section of the nation that benefits from it, including education and research institutions in virtually every state. Sharing science beyond the scientific community is a critical part of the scientific enterprise. To maintain critical investments in science and education as well as further public understanding of the natural world, it is essential that this outreach continue.