Advances in life sciences—from vaccines to new medical devices, from biofuels to increased food production, to the protection of ecosystems–illustrate the importance of life sciences to the health and well-being of society and the environment. Research shows that 80% of Americans have a moderate to strong interest in science. However, the current level of engagement between life scientists and various publics is not proportional either to the significance or speed of the advances.
Engaging public audiences in science is important. Advances in the life science and their potential applications can raise political, economic, and moral concerns that may challenge deeply held personal and societal beliefs. For example, advances in neuroscience may challenge what many of us think about the existence of the soul, free will, and personal responsibility – what it means to be human. Society holds a wide range of views on other topics too, such as genetically engineered foods, synthetic biology, embryonic stem cells, and human evolution.
Scientists have a responsibility to engage in discussions about how their work may be used in society. The vision of the Roundtable on Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences is for all scientists to have access to the knowledge and tools needed to develop pro-active, collaborative, science-based approaches to public engagement in the life sciences.