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Science for Georgia: Connecting All People with Science to Build Trust

Earning the Trust of Georgia.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the scientific community and the public it serves. At Science for Georgia, our goal is to fix this disconnect using three different approaches: (1) to improve communication between scientists and the public, (2) increase public engagement with science, and (3) advocate for the responsible use of science in public policy1. Evidence suggests that Science for Georgia has a long way to go to accomplish this mission. While about 86% of American adults say they have at least“a fair amount” of confidence in scientists2, only 37% of American adults believe that genetically modified foods are safe to eat, only 28% believe it’s safe to consume food grown with pesticides, and only 50% believe that climate change is caused by human activity3. It’s important to note that confidence in scientists does not translate to trust in scientific consensus on the issues.

When it comes to science, race is an important factor affecting an individual’s level of trust. Black Americans (71%) and Hispanic Americans (63%) are far more likely to view research misconduct as a moderately big problem as compared to whites (43%)3. Historically, people of color have not been granted the same rights and privileges as their white counterparts in the fields of science and technology, leading to understandable mistrust. Some historical research cases such as the Tuskegee Incident (1932-1972)4, and the story of Henrietta Lacks (1951)5 are disheartening examples of previous failures in science. Strides have been made to correct these historical failures, such as the Privacy Act of 19746, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA7. More recently efforts like the All of Us Research Study8 are being made to include people of color and women in large scale genetic studies where they have historically been left out.

The science community still has a long way to go to building trust. For example, a recent research paper9 identified as barriers to participation for African America, female, and rural populations: “lack of knowledge about clinical trials and biobanks; limited specific information and access to participation, trust and privacy concerns about clinical trials and biobanking”. The same research suggested that communities need plain language and culturally appropriate descriptions of research to facilitate participation. It’s important that people of different races and genders participate in research so we are certain that new devices and medications are truly safe for all populations who might require them.

These missteps also extend into the technology sector. Whether it’s facial recognition technology10, job recruiting technology11, difficulty recognizing darker skin tones12, or software used to determine bail for criminals13, Artificial intelligence technology has repeatedly been found to be biased against people of color and women14. These issues widely reflect the lack of diversity in the technology sphere. If people of color and womenare not part of developing and vetting technology, it’s not always built to work in their favor.

For all these reasons and more, Science for Georgia Inc. takes an inclusive approach to its mission. We focus on improving communication between scientists and the public with hope to create a connected, vibrant, and sustainable science community woven intothe fabric of Georgia. This includes ensuring that people of color and women are part of this network to ensure technology and science developed in the future includes their voices and addresses their needs. It is only by making science trustworthy, accessible, and inclusive, that it can become a strong foundation for Georgia’s prosperity. We believethis comprehensive approach is key to building a community where scientists and non-scientists work together for the common good of the state.

Science for Georgia: Our BackgroundScience for Georgia was born in the wake of the March for Science. After the signs were folded away, we elected to become a group committed to keeping science a non-partisantool to be used for the common good—all of us asking: “How can science better serve Georgia?” This small group of scientists and science fans15 now run the show out of Atlanta as a team composed of a four-person board of directors and approximately six volunteers. The aim of the movement is to maintain momentum and tap community enthusiasm for the goal of educating public audiences—from its current audience of about 15,000 people located mainly in and around Atlanta to people in every corner of the state by 2025. It is our goal to work with every Georgian to create a strong science ecosystem to improve our state.

Science for Georgia has two major pillars of action: outreach and in-reach. Outreach programs bring science to the community in an easy to understand and accessible way. Our outreach events include; Science Tales & Trails (Atlanta16 and Athens17), Atlanta ScienceTavern18, and The Georgia Science Wiki project (under development). Science Tales & Trails is an outdoor social learning journey where the public can meet and discuss science with a local scientist. The invited scientist describes their research in plain language and focuses on the relevance of that work to the public. Atlanta Science Tavernmeets at a local pub where the scientist gives a more formal presentation (slides and all)to the attendees who can then ask questions. The Georgia Science Wiki project is in development but will focus on building a searchable database that hosts high-quality, easy to understand discussions of important scientific topics related to Georgia provided by subject matter experts as well as comprehensive lists of Science and Technology organizations operating in Georgia.

In-reach programs are geared towards giving scientists the tools to better communicate with the public, policymakers, and across scientific fields. In-reach programs include; ScitoberFest19, a networking event for S&T professionals, organizations, and charities; as well as a Science Communication Workshop that offers formal training to S&T professionals in communicating their science to lay audiences. We are also working to create a robust network of science and technology non-profits, professional organizations, businesses, and educational resources. This network will be used to forge connections, stimulate collaborations, and help the professional S&T community to better serve both the public and the scientific community. Further, each year we select one of our partner organizations to work more directly with to amplify their message, spread their word, and help them reach their goals. For example, in 2019 we selected the Georgia Chief Science Officers Program to raise their profile and give participating student leaders the chance to speak directly to the community. It is our goal to foster the cross-discipline communication needed to create a strong science community in Georgia and to foster the communication needed to bridge the divide between the science and non-science community.

Links to more information on the organization, cause, and getting involved.

References
1. http://www.scienceforgeorgia.org
2. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2019/08/02/trust-and-mistrust-in-americans-views-of-scientific-experts/
3. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/
4. https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm
5. https://www.science37.com/blog/medical-research-trust-and-henrietta-lacks/
6. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/personal_information
7. https://www.recordnations.com/articles/history-hipaa/
8. https://allofus.nih.gov/
9. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcell.2019.00074/full
10. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/technology/facial-recognition-race-artificial-intelligence.html
11. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-jobs-automation-insight/amazon-scraps-secret-ai-recruiting-tool-that-showed-bias-against-women-idUSKCN1MK08G
12. https://www.wired.com/story/best-algorithms-struggle-recognize-black-faces-equally/
13. https://www.propublica.org/article/machine-bias-risk-assessments-in-criminal-sentencing
14. https://ainowinstitute.org/discriminatingsystems.pdf
15. http://www.scienceforgeorgia.org/index.php/our-people/
16. http://sciencetalesandtrails.org/atlanta-science-tales-and-trails/
17. http://sciencetalesandtrails.org/athens-science-tales-and-trails/
18. https://www.meetup.com/AtlantaScienceTavern/
19. https://events.vtools.ieee.org/m/204961?fbclid=IwAR0qU5kSbm1eR95CdtuYGUQKcJpTGqyAdxuusBOYu3Xlp70pjY5_yhsqGbI