Adult audience participation in outreach activities and events is usually limited to those who are already scientifically inclined, or contain an above-average pedagogical interest in pursuing educational topics. It is also constrained geographically to areas with large numbers of active scientists. The wider general public, including underserved communities, is neither willing nor able to take the time to participate in activities that deeply investigate scientific phenomena.
This combination of factors renders a large proportion of scientific information inaccessible to the majority of non-scientists, leading to a situation where the extent of the impact of scientific research is lost on the general public. Unfortunately, attempts so far to convey a sophisticated understanding of science to the broader general public have fallen short of attaining universal science literacy. However, there has been modest success in raising the general level of scientific awareness amongst the public at large. For instance, some scientific jargon (e.g. DNA) has become established in standard vernacular, and scientific topics are increasingly prominent in both news and entertainment. This distinction demonstrates that successful outreach activities need not necessarily be explicitly dedicated to imparting an ability to critically understand scientific principles. Effort can instead be focused on increasing appreciation for science by demonstrating its applicability within the context of everyday life.
Successful outreach operations therefore must have broad yet shallow appeal that connects with audiences on a basic level, relying on interesting formats that require minimal effort on the part of attendees to show up and participate. Such an approach has the added benefit of appealing to non-traditional outreach audiences. If activities are organized so that scientific themes and topics are infused into general, community-based events utilizing an accessible, relatable approach, they will have a far greater reach than those events that are typically attended by standard outreach participants. For example, the growing Nerd Nite movement effectively mixes learning and entertainment by featuring informal, offbeat presentations on a range of scholarly and cultural subjects at non-traditional venues such as art spaces and music venues. While this approach may not ensure an overall increase in science literacy, it will assuredly improve public perception and appreciation of science, leading to beneficial results for both scientists and the public at large.
To help increase public appreciation and awareness of the everyday benefits of science, the Public Outreach Committee intends to:
1. Work to develop joint grass-roots advocacy/outreach activities
2. Create and expand programming that facilitates participation of scientists in outreach ventures
3. Increase presence of science in public venues that reach diverse audiences