Vancouver, British Columbia. A stark theme emerged from an annual scientific meeting in Vancouver: the world must believe in science again or it could be too late to save our planet.
Science is “under siege,” top academics and educators were warned repeatedly at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting as they were urged to better communicate their work to the public.
Scientific solutions are needed to solve global crises — from food and water shortages to environmental destruction — “but the public now does not understand science,” leading US climate change expert and NASA scientist James Hansen said.
“We have a planetary emergency, and very few people recognize that.”
The theme of the five-day meeting, attended by some 8,000 scientists from 50 countries, was “Flattening the world: Building a global knowledge society.”
“It’s about persuading people to believe in science, at a time when disturbing numbers don’t,” said meeting co-chair Andrew Petter, president of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
Experts wrangled with thorny issues such as censorship, opposition from religious groups in the United States to teaching evolution and climate change and generally poor education standards.
Outgoing AAAS president Nina Fedoroff, an expert on life sciences and biotechnology, said a growing anti-science attitude “probably lies in our own psyche.”
“Belief systems, especially when tinged with fear, are not easily dispersed with facts,” she said, noting that in the United States “fewer people ‘believe’ in climate change each year.”
Her remarks held particular resonance for the scientific community, coming as US President Barack Obama faces a fierce attack from a potential Republican challenger for the allegedly “phony theology” behind his environmental policy.
“I refer to global warming as not climate science, but political science,” Catholic conservative Rick Santorum said at a campaign stop on Monday in Ohio.