National Science Foundation (NSF) director Rita Colwell is gearing up for a big increase in public outreach that she hopes will also benefit the agency's bottom line. An advisory panel headed by PR honcho Frank Mankiewicz last week called for at least doubling the agency's $2.5 million public affairs budget as part of a major campaign to inform the public about the scientific underpinnings of today's economy.
"NSF needs to be the place that the scientific media calls" on any breaking science story, Mankiewicz told the National Science Board, NSF's overseer. Such one-stop shopping would not only improve public understanding of science but also raise NSF's profile, said several panelists, who asserted that other agencies--in particular NASA--do a much better job of publicizing discoveries they have funded.
Board members embraced the panel's message, as did Colwell. "If I understand you correctly," said John White, chancellor of the University of Arkansas, "a $15 million increase in the agency's PR budget could give us a chance to increase NSF's budget by $15 billion ... a pretty good rate of return." One sour note: For all its visibility, NASA's budget has stalled in recent years, while NSF's has grown steadily.
The National Science Foundation