For Good Science, You Need Engaged Citizens

Thu, 22 Jul 2021 06:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Science

They strengthen the institutions that ensure a strong democracy, leading to rational decisions

We must improve how ordinary citizens help shape science policy.

This is one of the findings of a recent report from the Hastings Center that examines the role of citizens in shaping policy in health and science.

What we need are opportunities for Americans to talk and listen to each other face to face, as equals, ideally in person but virtually if need be, about the values and the facts that should guide policy.

Public deliberation could also be tailored to the many issues that tend to elude the voting/governing feedback loop.

Reports from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and other bodies around the world have argued that policy on genetic editing technologies should be guided by public deliberation.

Public deliberation could also shape the distribution of scarce resources in a disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic, or the use of public health measures such as vaccine certificates.

The groundswell of support among the public for more attention to climate change suggests that public deliberation could help galvanize the political will to overcome the policy-making logjam in the federal government.

In the end, good science depends on democracy, and democracy depends on a deeper, richer engagement between citizens and governance structures.

In a healthy democracy, institutions both private and governmental help create citizens who learn, talk and listen better-who are better able to be engaged and effective-and in turn, active, engaged citizens strengthen the institutions of a good democracy.

We don't just need good government: we need a good society that builds good citizens, who in turn build a better society.

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