Former Science Academy head calls for strong commitment to science education

November 3 2006

"Science is more important to the world than most scientists think," former National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts said Friday during an address at Indiana State University.

In a time of chaos in the world, the scientific community is a source of potential optimism and hope, Alberts said during a presentation entitled "The Joys of Science and How They Led Me to Science Policy."

Alberts, professor and chair of biochemistry at the University of California at San Francisco, is noted for his extensive study of the protein complexes that allow chromosomes to be replicated - a process required for a living cell to divide. He said he came to understand the importance of science even more after 12 years in Washington at the helm of the science academy.

Scientists can talk to one another when their governments cannot, Alberts said, noting he enjoys good communications with scientists in Iran, for example. He encourages a broader pipeline from college and university science departments to communities and suggested graduate students in the sciences should be encouraged to follow careers outside academia.

All professions need scientifically trained people in order to connect with different cultures in society, including government and the media, Alberts said. Bringing people from different fields together is also how breakthroughs occur, he said.

"What (the National Institutes of Health) generally does, if they want to think about what to do with schizophrenia they'll bring 100 people together who work on schizophrenia and have a workshop. New ideas don't come out that way. You need to mix up people in different fields and that's what universities should be about, as well," Alberts said.

The Harvard-educated Midwesterner said the United States will not be able to live off its post World War II legacy in science and technology much longer. Alberts addressed a crowd of more than 200 students and faculty from Indiana State, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and Ivy Tech State College.

Asked during an interview about the continued debate over stem cell research, global warming and intelligent design, Alberts said, "This country seems to be struggling with issues other countries have solved."

Science education is needed, he said, to prepare people to be rational, effective citizens and make better personal decisions.

"Our communications culture is such that we are constantly being bamboozled be either advertisers or somebody trying to trick us out of either our money for our votes," Alberts said. "Science education and the rational use of analysis and problem solving, and being skeptical about simple answers to complex questions are important."

The U.S. is in trouble, he said, if its citizens are not sophisticated enough to protect themselves from e-mail scams promising a big return for a small investment or from politicians who try to get their votes by pretending something exists that doesn't exist, he said.

Alberts appearance in Terre Haute was presented by ISU's department of life sciences. Co-sponsors included the ISU departments of chemistry, ecology and organismal biology, and physics; the College of Arts And Sciences; Office of Sponsored Programs; St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and the Indiana University School of Medicine-Terre Haute.

Contact: Swapan Ghosh, professor and interim chair, Department of Life Sciences, Indiana State University,(812)237-2416 or lsghosh@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

Former National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts told a crowd of more than 200 students and faculty that science is more important to the world than most scientists think. All professions need people with scientific backgrounds and science education is needed to ensure people become rational, effective citizens, he said.

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