Category Archives: science communication

2024 Kavli Prize Laureates: in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience

The Kavli Prize has yet to acquire the lustre of a Nobel Prize (first awarded in 1901 as per its Wikipedia entry). By comparison the Kavli Prize is relatively new (established in 2005 as per its Wikipedia entry) but it appears to be achieving big deal status in the US.

This year’s crop of prize winners was listed in a June 12, 2024 Kavli Foundation news release on EurekAlert,

Eight scientists from three countries are honored for their research that has broadened our understanding of the big, the small and the complex.

June 12, 2024 (Oslo, Norway) — The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters today announced the 2024 Kavli Prize Laureates in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience. Eight scientists from three countries are honored for their research that has broadened our understanding of the big, the small and the complex. The laureates in each field will share $1 million USD. 

The 2024 Kavli Prizes recognize groundbreaking science for the discovery and characterization of extra-solar planets and their atmospheres; foundational research integrating synthetic nanoscale materials for biomedical use; and the localization of areas in the brain specialized for face recognition and processing.  

The 2024 Kavli Prize Laureates are:  

  • Kavli Prize in Astrophysics: David Charbonneau (Canada/USA) and Sara Seager (Canada/USA) 
  • Kavli Prize in Nanoscience: Robert S. Langer (USA), Armand Paul Alivisatos (USA) and Chad A. Mirkin (USA) 
  • Kavli Prize in Neuroscience: Nancy Kanwisher (USA), Winrich Freiwald (Germany), and Doris Tsao (USA) 

“The Kavli Prize 2024 honors outstanding researchers doing fundamental science that moves the world forward. They are exploring planets outside our solar system; they have broadened the scientific field of nanoscience towards biomedicine; and they are adding to our understanding of the neurological basis of face recognition,” said Lise Øvreås, president at The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.  

Astrophysics: Searching for life beyond Earth  

The 2024 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics honors Sara Seager and David Charbonneau for discoveries of exoplanets and the characterization of their atmospheres. They pioneered methods for the detection of atomic species in planetary atmospheres and the measurement of their thermal infrared emission, setting the stage for finding the molecular fingerprints of atmospheres around both giant and rocky planets. Their contributions have been key to the enormous progress seen in the last 20 years in the exploration of myriad exo-planets.  

“Humans have always looked towards the stars for discoveries. The pivotal research conducted by Seager and Charbonneau has been an important first step towards finding new planets and strong evidence of life elsewhere in the universe,” remarked Viggo Hansteen, Chair of the Astrophysics Committee.  

David Charbonneau led the team that used the transit method to discover a giant exoplanet (HD 209458b). He pioneered the application of space-based observatories to perform the first studies of the atmosphere of giant extrasolar planets. This new method measures the tiny amount of light blocked by such a planet as it passes in front of its host star. Charbonneau has also used the transit method to study exoplanetary atmospheres, measuring molecular spectra using both filtered starlight and infrared emission from the planets themselves. He demonstrated these two approaches with observations from the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002 and the Spitzer Space Telescope three years later.  

Sara Seager pioneered the theoretical study of planetary atmospheres and predicted the presence of atomic and molecular species detectable by transit spectroscopy, most notably the alkali gases. She predicted how transits could be used to measure atomic and molecular characteristics in exoplanetary atmospheres, which is crucial for identifying biomarkers – signs of life. Seager made outstanding contributions to the understanding of planets with masses below that of Neptune. She also carried out extensive research on starshades – enormous petal-like structures designed to shield space observatories from the glare of a faraway Sun-like star – and was among the first to recognize their importance in detecting and characterizing the faint light from any Earth-like planet orbiting the star. 

Nanoscience: Integrating nanomaterials for biomedical advances 

The 2024 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience honors Robert S. Langer, Armand Paul Alivisatos and Chad A. Mirkin who each revolutionized the field of nanomedicine by demonstrating how engineering nanoscale materials can advance biomedical research and application. Their discoveries contributed foundationally to the development of therapeutics, vaccines, bioimaging and diagnostics.   

“The three scientists, Langer, Alivisatos and Mirkin, have broadened the scientific field of nanoscience, building from fundamental research. By scientific curiosity they have become inventors for the future of nanoscience and biomedicine,” stated Bodil Holst, Chair of the Nanoscience Committee.  

Robert S. Langer was the first to develop nano-engineered materials that enabled the controlled release, or regular flow, of drug molecules. This capability has had an immense impact for the treatment of a range of diseases, such as aggressive brain cancer, prostate cancer and schizophrenia. His work also showed that tiny particles, containing protein antigens, can be used in vaccination, and was instrumental in the development of the delivery of mRNA vaccines. 

Armand Paul Alivisatos demonstrated that semiconductor nanocrystals, or quantum dots (nanoparticles that possess bright, size-dependent light-emitting properties), can be used as multicolor probes in bioimaging. Essential to this achievement was the synthesis of biocompatible nanocrystals. Semiconductor nanocrystals became the basis for the widely used research and diagnostic tools such as live cell tracking, labelling and in vivo imaging. 

Chad A. Mirkin engineered spherical nucleic acids (SNA) using a gold nanoparticle as the core, and a cloud of radially distributed DNA or RNA strands as the shell. He was then able to show how SNAs can be combined to create larger structures and how they can be used in biodiagnostics. His discovery led to the development of fast, automated point-of-care medical diagnostic systems.  

Neuroscience: Understanding recognition of faces 

The 2024 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience honors Nancy Kanwisher, Doris Tsao and Winrich Freiwald for the discovery of a specialized system within the brain to recognize faces. Their discoveries have provided basic principles of neural organization and made the starting point for further research on how the processing of visual information is integrated with other cognitive functions.  

“Kanwisher, Freiwald and Tsao together discovered a localized and specialized neocortical system for face recognition. Their outstanding research will ultimately further our understanding of recognition not only of faces, but objects and scenes,” commented Kristine Walhovd, Chair of the Neuroscience Committee.  

Nancy Kanwisher was the first to prove that a specific area in the human neocortex is dedicated to recognizing faces, now called the fusiform face area. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) she found individual differences in the location of this area and devised an analysis technique to effectively localize specialized functional regions in the brain. This technique is now widely used and applied to domains beyond the face recognition system.  

Elaborating on Kanwisher’s findings, Winrich Freiwald and Doris Tsao studied macaques and mapped out six distinct brain regions, known as the face patch system, including these regions’ functional specialization and how they are connected. By recording the activity of individual brain cells, they revealed how cells in some face patches specialize in faces with particular views.  

Tsao proceeded to identify how the face patches work together to identify a face, through a specific code that enables single cells to identify faces by assembling information of facial features. For example, some cells respond to the presence of hair, others to the distance between the eyes. 

Freiwald uncovered that a separate brain region, called the temporal pole, accelerates our recognition of familiar faces, and that some cells are selectively responsive to familiar faces. 

There’s a video of the official 2024 Kavli Prize announcement which despite the Kavli Foundation being headquartered in California, US, was held (as noted in the news release) at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters where the organization’s president, Lise Øvreås, revealed the 2024 Kavli Prize laureates..(I’ll get back to that choice of location.)

The 2024 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience

There are many posts here featuring work from Robert S. Langer (or Robert Langer), Armand Paul Alivisatos (or Paul Alivisatos or A. Paul Alivisatos) and Chad A. Mirkin (or Chad Mirkin).

Northwestern University (Chicago, Illinois) issued a June 12, 2024 news release (also received via email) by Maria Paul that provides a few more details about the nanoscience winners (main focus: Chad Mirkin), the prize, and the Kavli Foundation. Note: A link has been removed,

Northwestern University nanoscientist Chad Mirkin has been awarded The 2024 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience by The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Mirkin is the first Northwestern scientist to receive the prestigious award.

Mirkin is recognized for his discovery of spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), nanostructures comprised of a nanoparticle core and a shell of radially distributed DNA or RNA strands. These globular forms of nucleic acids have become the cornerstones of the burgeoning fields of nanomedicine and colloidal crystal engineering with DNA. They allow scientists to construct new forms of matter using particle “atoms” as the basic building blocks and DNA “bonds” as particle interconnects, and they are the basis for powerful tools that allow researchers and clinicians to track and treat disease in new ways. In particular, SNAs have led to the development of fast, automated point-of-care medical diagnostic systems and new experimental drugs for treating many forms of cancer, neurological disorders, and diseases of the skin.

Mirkin is one of three laureates in nanoscience recognized by The Norwegian Academy for revolutionizing the field of nanomedicine by demonstrating how engineering nanoscale structures can advance biomedical research and application. The other two are Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Paul Alivisatos of the University of Chicago [emphasis mine]. The scientists’ discoveries “contributed foundationally to the development of therapeutics, vaccines, bioimaging and diagnostics,” The Norwegian Academy said in a release. They will share the $1 million award.

“When I first found out I won The Kavli Prize, there was both excitement but also relief, because I consider Northwestern to be the ultimate center for nanotechnology research,” Mirkin said. “To be recognized with this award, along with my incredible co-awardees, was great validation of what we’ve been trying to do at Northwestern. While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, the best is yet to come.”

The laureates will be awarded the prize on Sept. 3 during a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, presided over the by The Royal Family. The Kavli Prizes thus far have honored 65 scientists from 13 countries. Ten laureates received the Nobel Prize after receiving The Kavli Prize. [emphasis mine]

“I am thrilled for Chad, for the International Institute for Nanotechnology and for Northwestern,” Northwestern President Michael Schill said. “Chad has earned this prestigious and influential award in a pathbreaking area of science that is aligned with two of the University’s key priorities — to lead in decarbonization, renewable energy and sustainability, and innovating in the biosciences to help prolong lives and make the world a healthier place.

“Through groundbreaking research and hard work, Chad and his team have made Northwestern a leading center for nanotechnology research and investment. The fact that he is sharing this award with President Alivisatos at U of C further emphasizes how the Chicago area has become an international hub for nano research.”

The vision for The Kavli Prize comes from Fred Kavli, a Norwegian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist [emphasis mine] who turned his lifelong fascination with science into a lasting legacy for recognizing scientific breakthroughs and supporting basic research.

Since the first awards in 2008, The Kavli Prize has recognized innovative scientific research — from the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 to the detection of gravitational waves — transforming our understanding of the big, the small and the complex.

Mirkin’s discovery of SNAs has far-reaching implications for biology and medicine. SNAs, which have no known natural equivalents, interact uniquely with living systems compared to nucleic acids of other forms. Mirkin was the first to synthesize SNAs and elucidate the distinctive chemical and physical properties that underpin their use in transformative techniques and technologies in medicine and the life sciences. This work has led to the development of the first commercialized molecular medical diagnostic systems of the modern nanotechnology era, such as the Food and Drug Administration-cleared Verigene System, used in over half of the world’s top hospitals to detect diseases with high sensitivity and selectivity.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker praised Mirkin for his extraordinary contributions to the field of nanotechnology and how his innovations have helped find solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges.

“Academic institutions in Chicago and across Illinois have become the biggest drivers in nanoscience and technology over the last three decades,” Pritzker said. “Chad Mirkin and his Northwestern colleagues have made outstanding scientific discoveries that change how we view the world around us.”

In 1996, Mirkin created the first SNAs with DNA shells on gold nanoparticle cores. Over the years, he has developed numerous other types of SNAs with other shells and cores, including proteins, liposomes and FDA-approved materials, as well as core-less, hollow structures composed entirely of nucleic acids. These cores impart unique properties to the SNAs, such as optical and magnetic characteristics, while also serving as scaffolds to densely arrange the oligonucleotides, which participate in binding. This dense arrangement gives rise to the novel functional properties that differentiate SNAs from the natural linear and two-dimensional nucleic acids and make them particularly effective in interacting with certain biological structures within cells and tissues. SNAs, unlike conventional DNA and RNA, are naturally taken up by cells without the need for toxic, positively charged co-carriers, making them highly effective in RNA interference (RNAi), antisense gene regulation, and gene editing pathways.

Mirkin’s pioneering work on SNAs has also advanced the development of immunotherapeutics, structures capable of stimulating a patient’s immune response to fight both infectious diseases and certain forms of cancer. Using SNAs, Mirkin has pioneered the concept of rational vaccinology, where he demonstrated that the structure of a vaccine, rather than the components alone, is crucial for dictating its therapeutic effectiveness. This insight and these “structural nanomedicines” have opened new possibilities for developing curative treatments by rearranging known components into more effective structures at the nanoscale. Mirkin founded Flashpoint Therapeutics to commercialize these innovations, focusing on nucleic acid-based nanostructure cancer vaccines. Mirkin also invented the first SNA-based antiviral vaccine, using COVID-19 as a model. These SNAs, featuring the spike protein’s RBD subunit in the core, achieved a 100% survival rate in humanized mice challenged with the live virus. These structures and concepts for designing such vaccines are poised to move vaccine development beyond the current mRNA vaccines.

In addition, Mirkin invented dip-pen nanolithography, initially a technique for molecular writing with nanometer-scale precision that has evolved into a powerful platform for tip-based materials synthesis that, when combined with artificial intelligence, is revolutionizing how materials important for many sectors, especially clean energy, are discovered. Dip-pen nanolithography, which has spurred subsequent techniques that now use tens of millions of tiny tips to rapidly synthesize materials to be explored for such purposes, was recognized by National Geographic as one of the “top 100 scientific discoveries that changed the world.” These innovations are being commercialized by Mattiq, Inc., another venture-backed company Mirkin cofounded. Mirkin and his students also invented high-area rapid printing, an additive manufacturing technology, that is being commercialized by Azul 3D and being used to disrupt the microelectronics and optical lens industries.

Mirkin’s research has progressed SNA drugs through seven human clinical trials so far for treating various cancers, including glioblastoma multiforme and Merkel cell carcinoma. One SNA drug has shown remarkable potential in stimulating the immune system, proving effective in models of breast, colorectal and bladder cancers, lymphoma and melanoma. This drug has achieved complete tumor elimination in a subset of patients with Merkel cell carcinoma during Phase 1b/2 clinical trials, earning FDA fast-track and orphan drug status. It was recently licensed to Bluejay Therapeutics to treat hepatitis.

In 2000, Mirkin founded the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) at Northwestern University, which he also directs. Research at the IIN has led to over 2,000 new commercial products sold globally and the creation of more than 40 startup companies. The IIN has collectively brought together over $1.2 billion to support research, education and infrastructure at Northwestern since its inception.

Mirkin is the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry and a professor of medicine, chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering, and materials science and engineering at Northwestern. He is among an elite group of scientists elected to all three branches of the U.S. National Academies — the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Mirkin served on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for eight years.

Congratulations to all of the winners in all of the categories!

As for the Norway announcement, it makes a bit of sense given that Fred Kavli was a Norwegian American. However, it’s a little hard to avoid the suspicion that there might be some regional and prize rivalry between Norway with its Kavli and Sweden its Nobel..

Exploring biodiversity beyond boundaries and participatory (citizen) science

As this has been confusing to me with the two terms being used interchangeably, I investigated and, based on the findings, believe that ‘participatory sciences’ is a larger classification (subject) term, which includes ‘citizen science’ as a specific subset (type) of participatory science.

Bearing that in mind, here’s more from a May 29, 2024 letter/notice received via email about an upcoming participatory sciences conference,

There are so many areas where participatory sciences are creating a better understanding of the world around us. Sometimes looking at just one of those areas can help us see where there is real strength in these practices–and where combined work across this field can inspire huge change.

Right now, biodiversity is on my mind. 

Last week’s International Day of Biological Diversity invited everyone on the planet to be #PartOfThePlan to protect the systems that sustain us. The Biodiversity Plan calls for scientific collaborations, shared commitments, tracking indicators of progress, and developing transparent communication and engagement around actions by the end of this decade.

Participatory science projects have proven–but underutilized–potential to address spatial and temporal gaps in datasets; engage multiple ways of knowing; inform multilateral environmental agreements; and inspire action and change based on improved understandings of the systems that sustain us.

In this field, we have the the tools, experience, and vision to rise to this global challenge. What would it take to leverage the full power of participatory sciences to inspire and inform wise decisions for people and the planet?

If you are working in, or interested in, the frontiers of participatory sciences to address global challenges like biodiversity, you can be part of driving strategies and solutions at next week’s action-oriented stand on biodiversity at CAPS 2024, [Conference for Advancing the Participatory Sciences] June 3-6. Woven throughout the virtual four-day event are sessions that will both inform and inspire collaborative problem solving to improve how the participatory sciences are leveraged to confront the biodiversity crisis.

There will be opportunities in the program to share your thoughts and experiences, whether or not you are giving a talk.  This event is designed to bring together a diversity of perspectives from across the Americas and beyond.

The strand is a collaboration between AAPS [Association for Advancing Participatory Sciences], the Red Iberoamericana de Cienci A Participativa (the Iberoamerican Network of Participatory Science), iDigBio [Integrated Digitized Biocollections], and Florida State University’s Institute for Digital Information & Scientific Communication.  

CAPS 2024 Biodiversity Elements:

Collaborative Sessions Addressing Biodiversity Knowledge

Each day, multiple sessions will convene global leaders, practitioners, and others to discuss how to advance biodiversity knowledge worldwide. Formats include daily symposia, ideas-to-action conversations, virtual multi-media posters, and lightning talk discussions. Our virtual format provides plenty of opportunities for exchanges. 

Find the full biodiversity strand program here >

Plenary Symposia: Biodiversity Beyond Boundaries

Join global leaders as they share their work to span boundaries to create connected knowledge for biodiversity research and action. 

Learn more about the Plenary Symposia >

Biodiversity-themed Virtual Posters and Live Poster Sessions

Over one-third of the 100+ posters focus specifically on advancing biodiversity-related participatory science. Each day, poster sessions highlight a selection of posters via lightning talks and group discussions.  

Our media-rich virtual poster platform lets you easily scroll through all of the posters and chat with presenters on your own time – even from your phone!

View the full poster presenter list here >

There is still time to register!

Sign up now to ensure a seamless conference experience.

We have tiered registration rates to enable equitable access to the event, and to support delivery of future programming for everyone.

Register Here

This image is from the May 22, 2024 International Day of Biological Diversity,

The unrestricted exploitation of wildlife has led to the disappearance of many animal species at an alarming rate, destroying Earth’s biological diversity and upsetting the ecological balance Photo:Vladimir Wrangel/Adobe Stock

Quantum Leaps Career Conference (online) – Medicine and Medical Research for girls in grades 8-12 on May 27, 2024

Notice of this conference came in a May 13, 2024 Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) announcement (received via email),

Quantum Leaps: Medicine and Medical Research
May 27 [2024] | 5-6pm PDT | Online
Quantum Leaps is a virtual career conference where girls in grades 8-12 can learn about STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] careers. Participants will gain invaluable insights into careers in medicine and medical research, and get a firsthand look into the daily routines and experiences within these fields. Register.

I’ve got a little more information from the event registration page,

During these events, girls can meet women professionals who have been successful in their STEM fields and meet other like-minded girls who have similar aspirations and interests. This event will help them know more about the STEM fields they are interested in and discover new STEM fields. Quantum Leaps also aims to aid students in the transition between high school and higher education.

This particular Quantum Leaps event will focus on women professionals working in careers related to Medicine and Medical research. They also have expertise in science communication and facilitating learning. Did they have a fixed plan for what they would like to do five years after high school? How do they ease into changing their career focus? Did they know that they wanted to pursue these careers when they were in university? Girls will get the opportunity to interact with these women to get the answers they need at the event.

AGENDA

6:00-6:25: Speaker 1 and Q&A session

6:25-6:50: Speaker 2 and Q&A session

6:50-7:00 Conclusion

SPEAKERS

Ivy Mageto, a third-year medical student at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences (UMHS) in Saint Kitts and Nevis, hails originally from Kenya but has called Canada home since the 10th grade. Before embarking on her medical journey, Ivy pursued an accounting diploma and business degree from BCIT with aspirations of becoming a Certified Professional Accountant, though her path took an unexpected turn.Throughout her tenure in medical school, Ivy has actively engaged with various organizations. She served as the Vice President of Because We Care at UMHS, an organization dedicated to community service, diversity, inclusion, and health education. Additionally, she contributed her time as a teaching assistant for Biostatistics and Histology courses.Presently, Ivy finds herself in Michigan State for her medical school rotations, where her passion for medicine continues to grow. Eager to share her career journey, she looks forward to the opportunities ahead.

Jessica [Lovnicki] has experience working as a Clinical Research Coordinator in the field of Oncology. With a patient-focused mindset and a strong interest in pediatrics, she continues to strive to build world-class programs that enhance children’s health. Since November 2019, she has also offered administrative support to numerous students by logging their private school and university applications. She has also provided career and education counselling to help students decide which path to pursue by providing options that offer the opportunity for fulfillment and success. Realizing her passion for teaching and working with students, she will be going back to school this fall to become a biology and chemistry teacher. With a passion for education, teaching and career guidance, she looks forward to sharing her career journey with high school girls.

The event is free.

News and events at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)

I believe this is an April (?) 2024 newsletter and it’s definitely from Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI). Received via email, I was able to find this online copy (Note: I’m not sure how long this copy will remain online) and am excerpting a few items for inclusion here,

The current state of theoretical physics

Join the latest episode of Conversations at Perimeter as Neil Turok [director of the Perimeter Institute, 2008 – 2019] delves into the intriguing topic of the simplicity of nature.

Watch podcast here

Public Lecture – May 8 [2024]

Free tickets to attend the event in person will be available on Monday, April 22, at 9:00 AM EDT. Live-stream will also be available on the PI YouTube channel. 

Check details here

Quantum Lectures playlist

Explore quantum physics with our YouTube Quantum Lectures playlist. Discover the universe’s secrets from basics to advanced topics

Start watching now!

I found this poster for the free May 8, 2024 PI event,

[downloaded from https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/hydrogen-to-higgs-boson-particle-physics-at-the-large-hadron-collider-tickets-877493876807]

It (the May 8, 2024 PI hybrid [live or streaming] event) may be of more interest than usual as Peter Higgs of the Higgs Boson died on April 8, 2024, from the Hydrogen to Higgs Boson: Particle Physics at the Large Hadron Collider eventbrite webpage,

Hydrogen to Higgs Boson: Particle Physics at the Large Hadron Collider

Explore particle physics with Dr. Clara Nellist at the Perimeter Institute on May 8, as she discusses CERN’s groundbreaking research.

Date and time

Starts on Wednesday, May 8 [2024] · 6pm EDT

Location

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
31 Caroline Street North Waterloo, ON N2L 2Y5

Agenda

6:00 p.m.

Doors Open

Perimeter’s main floor will be open for ticket holders, with scientists available to answer science questions until the show begins.

7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Public Lecture

The public lecture will begin at 7:00pm, including a live stream for virtual attendees. This will include a full presentation as well as a Q&A session.

8:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Post-Event Discussion

Following the lecture, discussion will continue in the atrium, where you can ask questions to the presenter as well as other researchers in the crowd.

About this event

About the Speaker:

Dr Clara Nellist – Particle Physicist and Science Communicator, is currently working at CERN [European Organization for Nuclear Research] on the ATLAS experiment, with research focusing on top quarks and searching for dark matter with machine learning. Learn more about her work on her Instagram here.

About the Event:

Registration to attend the event in person will be available on Monday, April 22 at 9:00 AM EDT.

Tickets for this event are 100% free. [emphasis mine] As always, our public lectures are live-streamed in real-time on our YouTube channel – available here: https://www.youtube.com/@PIOutreach

The existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed (or as close to confirmed as scientists will get) in 2012 (see my July 4, 2012 posting “Tears of joy as physicists announce they’re pretty sure they found the Higgs Boson” for an account of the event. Peter Higgs and and François Englert were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

If you are planning to attend the lecture in person, free tickets will be made available on Monday, April 22, at 9:00 AM EDT. Go here and, remember, these tickets go quickly.

Trust in science remains high but public questions scientists’ adherence to science’s norms

A March 4, 2024 Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania news release (also on EurekAlert and received via email) announces research into public trust in science in the US,

Science is one of the most highly regarded institutions in America, with nearly three-quarters of the public expressing “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in scientists. But confidence in science has nonetheless declined over the past few years, since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has for most other major social institutions.

In a new article, members of the Strategic Council of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM] examine what has happened to public confidence in science, why it has happened, and what can be done to elevate it. The researchers write that while there is broad public agreement about the values that should underpin science, the public questions whether scientists actually live up to these values and whether they can overcome their individual biases.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), relies in part on new data being released in connection with this article by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. The data come from the Annenberg Science Knowledge (ASK) survey conducted February 22-28, 2023, with an empaneled, nationally representative sample of 1,638 U.S. adults who were asked about their views on scientists and science. The margin of error for the entire sample is ± 3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. (See the paper for the findings.) The survey is directed by APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a member of the Strategic Council and a co-author of the PNAS paper.

Decline in confidence comparable to other institutions

The researchers also examine trends in public confidence in science dating back 20 years from other sources, including the Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey of National Opinion Research at the University of Chicago. These show a recent decline consistent with the decline seen for other institutions.

“We’re of the view that trust has to be earned,” said lead author Arthur Lupia, a member of the NASEM’s Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust, and associate vice president for research at the University of Michigan. “We wanted to understand how trust in science is changing, and why, and is there anything that the scientific enterprise can do to regain trust?”

Highlights

“Confidence in science is high relative to nearly all other civic, cultural, and government institutions…,” the article states. In addition:

  • The public has high levels of confidence in scientists’ competence, trustworthiness, and honesty – 84% of survey respondents in February 2023 are very or somewhat confident that scientists provide the public with trustworthy information in the scientists’ area of inquiry.
  • Many in the public question whether scientists share their values and whether scientists can overcome their own biases. For instance, when asked whether scientists will or will not publish findings if a study’s results run counter to the interests of the organization running the study, 70% said scientists will not publish the findings.
  • The public has “consistent beliefs about how scientists should act and beliefs that support their confidence in science despite their concerns about scientists’ possible biases and distortive incentives.” For example, 84% of U.S. adults say it is somewhat or very important for scientists to disclose their funders and 92% say it is somewhat or very important that scientists be open to changing their minds based on new evidence.
  • However, when asked about scientists’ biases, just over half of U.S. adults (53%) say scientists provide the public with unbiased conclusions about their area of inquiry and just 42% say scientists generally are “able to overcome their human and political biases.”

Beyond measurements of trust in science

The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s ASK survey in February 2023 asked U.S. adults more nuanced questions about attitudes toward scientists.

“We’ve developed measures beyond trust or confidence in science in order to understand why some in the public are less supportive of science and scientists than others,” said Jamieson, who is also a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. “Perceptions of whether scientists share one’s values, overcome their human and political biases, and correct mistakes are important as well.”

The ASK survey of U.S. adults found, for instance, that 81% regard scientists as competent, 70% as trustworthy, and 68% as honest, but only 42% say scientists “share my values.”

A more detailed analysis of the variables and effects seen in Annenberg’s surveys was published in September 2023 in PNAS in the paper “Factors Assessing Science’s Self-Presentation model and their effect on conservatives’ and liberals’ support for funding science.”

Confidence in science and Covid-19 vaccination status

The research published in PNAS was initiated by members of the NASEM’s Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust, which was established in 2021 to advance the integrity, ethics, resilience, and effectiveness of the research enterprise.

Lupia said the Strategic Council’s conversations about whether trust in science was declining and if so, why, began during the pandemic. “There was great science behind the Covid-19 vaccine, so why was the idea of people taking it so controversial?” he asked. “Covid deaths were so visible and yet the controversy over the vaccine was also so visible – kind of an icon of the public-health implications of declining trust in science.”

The article cites research from the Annenberg Public Policy Center that found important relationships between science-based forms of trust and the willingness to take a Covid-19 vaccine. Data from waves of another APPC survey of U.S. adults in five swing states during the 2020 campaign season – reported in a 2021 article in PNAS – showed that from July 2020 to February 2021, U.S. adults’ trust in health authorities was a significant predictor of the reported intention to get the Covid-19 vaccine. See the article “The role of non-COVID-specific and COVID-specific factors in predicting a shift in willingness to vaccinate: A panel study.”

How to raise confidence in science

Raising public confidence in science, the researchers write, “should not be premised on the assumption that society would be better off with higher levels of uncritical trust in the scientific community. Indeed, uncritical trust in science would violate the scientific norm of organized skepticism and be antithetical to science’s culture of challenge, critique, and self-correction.”

“Instead,” they propose, “researchers, scientific organizations, and the scientific community writ large need to redouble their commitment to conduct, communicate, critique, and – when error is found or misconduct detected – correct the published record in ways that both merit and earn public confidence.”

The data cited in the paper, they conclude, “suggest that the scientific community’s commitment to core values such as the culture of critique and correction, peer review, acknowledging limitations in data and methods, precise specification of key terms, and faithful accounts of evidence in every step of scientific practice and in every engagement with the public may help sustain confidence in scientific findings.”

“Trends in U.S. Public Confidence in Science and Opportunities for Progress” was published March 4, 2024, in PNAS. In addition to Jamieson and Lupia, the authors are David B. Allison, dean of the School of Public Health, Indiana University; Jennifer Heimberg, of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Magdalena Skipper, editor-in-chief of the journal Nature; and Susan M. Wolf, of the University of Minnesota Law and Medical Schools. Allison is co-chair of the National Academies’ Strategic Council; Lupia, Jamieson, Skipper, and Wolf are members of the Council, and Heimberg is the director of the Council.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Trends in U.S. public confidence in science and opportunities for progress by Arthur Lupia, David B. Allison, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and Susan M. Wolf. PNAS March 4, 2024 121 (11) e2319488121 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2319488121

This paper is open access.