BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—A loose alliance of 500 scientific organizations has declared 2009 the Year of Science and is hoping the effort will lead to a spate of projects to put science and technology in reach of the public. This week, the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) kicked off an outreach campaign here at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology to encourage more scientists and their organizations to promote a public understanding of science.
COPUS's roots date back to a 2006 workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation to discuss threats to the study of evolution. The participants quickly realized "it wasn't just evolution that was being shortchanged, it was all of science," recalls workshop organizer Judy Schotchmoor of the University of California, Berkeley. The organization has grown from the 20 groups it started with in April 2007 to a network of more than 500, including government agencies, associations—including ScienceInsider's publisher, AAAS—museums, research institutes, the National Academy of Sciences, even the Banana Slug String Band, which puts science concepts to music.
The effort also features a Web site, understandingscience.org, aimed at teachers and others. It explains key scientific concepts in words and cartoons, corrects misconceptions, and features scientist profiles, student activities, lesson plans, and teaching tips.
Researchers are grateful for the help. "We now have a great network for disseminating information to the public," says Eduardo Rosa-Molinar, an integrative biologist at the University of Puerto Rico. But some wonder how necessary another science advocacy organization is. "It's a bit confusing," says Haruhiko Itagaki, a neurobiologist at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.