Bruce Alberts, Ph.D.
“An Ambitious Agenda for Science: Spreading Innovation and Rationality”
Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006, 9:15 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.
Searle Center Lecture Hall
Science is much more important for the world than most scientists think. But if we are to be successful in spreading science and its values around the world, those of us who are scientists will need to make major changes in our standard way of operating.
First, the National Science Education Standards (1996) propose that science should become a core subject that is taught along with reading, writing, and mathematics in every school year, starting in kindergarten. The Standards specify that science education should emphasize empowering experiences in problem-solving that take advantage of the curiosity in children and increase each student’s understanding of the world. But to make such reforms possible, our introductory science courses for undergraduates must also undergo a dramatic change. Rather than presenting a “skim view” of everything that biologists have discovered, for example, all of our Biology 1 courses must focus on giving every student an understanding of the nature of science and its value to society.
Second, in order to ensure the rationality and the tolerance essential for our democratic society, we will need talented, scientifically trained people in all professions. These individuals are essential for connecting the scientific community to the very different cultures of government, pre-college education, law, the media, business, and so on. Thus, we need to encourage our students to enter these professions, and to value them. In other words, we must dramatically change the way that we define success for young scientists.
Finally, science and technology can make a major difference for every nation’s development through myriad interventions, but these are much too fine-grained for outsiders to expect to be able to solve other nation’s problems. Instead, our entire focus should be on helping to build the local capacities that each nation will need to solve their problems themselves. The easiest part of this effort involves an insistence on scientific knowledge as a “public good,” utilizing our amazing communication abilities to produce freely available Web-based knowledge and education resources. The InterAcademy Council, a new organization in Amsterdam governed by 15 academy presidents, has made the other, more difficult half of the effort its central goal: the building of strong local institutions for science and technology in every nation (see Inventing a Better Future at www.interacademycouncil.net).
Bruce Alberts, a respected biochemist with a strong commitment to the improvement of science and mathematics education, has returned to the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, as Professor after serving two six-year terms as the president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
During his tenure at the NAS, Alberts was instrumental in developing the landmark National Science Education standards that have been implemented in school systems nationwide. Alberts is also noted as one of the original authors of The Molecular Biology of the Cell, a preeminent textbook in the field now in its fourth edition. For the period 2000 to 2009, he serves as the co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, a new organization in Amsterdam governed by the presidents of 15 national academies of sciences and established to provide scientific advice to the world.
Committed in his international work to the promotion of the “creativity, openness and tolerance that are inherent to science,” Alberts believes that “scientists all around the world must now band together to help create more rational, scientifically-based societies that find dogmatism intolerable.”
Widely recognized for his work in the fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, Alberts has earned many honors and awards, including 14 honorary degrees and an investiture as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He currently serves on the advisory boards of more than 15 non-profit institutions. He is an Overseer at Harvard University, a Trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a Trustee of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the president-elect of the American Society of Cell Biology.