Science & Civics

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The Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program focuses on the challenge of sustaining strong citizenship in America and coherent national identity in an age of demographic flux and severe inequality. One of its projects, “What Every American Should Know,” explores how, in an age of increasing diversity and widening inequality, this country can cultivate a sense of shared destiny and common civic purpose. The Rita Allen Foundation’s support launched a new branch of this work, the Science & Civics initiative. The Science & Civics initiative is based on the premise that there is an interconnected gap in both civic literacy and scientific literacy in the United States—and that addressing them together is vital to cultivating a citizenry capable of informed self-government. The work aims to help scientists become more powerful citizens, and help to enable citizens to make sense of the world and complex problems more like scientists. At the initiative’s first convening, leading practitioners and communicators of civics and science came together to address two questions: what should every American citizen know about science, and what should every scientist know about civics? They identified a number of key challenges and opportunities, including the need for an infrastructure to help scientists connect with the needs of communities, as well as the need for citizens to understand the relationships between science and policy. The Institute has shared a blueprint for overcoming these challenges and other barriers to scientific and civic literacy, which will serve as a basis for public discussions and pilot projects in communities facing specific science-related issues.