SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
7 September 2017
Volume 18 Issue 9

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Public Outreach and Science Communication: Activities in SETAC North America

Paul Sibley, Stuart Cohen, Greg Pyle, Danielle Cucchiara, Co-chairs of the SETAC North America Public Outreach Committee

Many of you will have noticed the increasing emphasis in recent editorials in various SETAC publications on the critical role of science in society and the need for effective science communication. This reflects growing recognition among SETAC members of the importance of listening to, informing and engaging the public on environmental issues and of the need to respond to increasingly negative and misrepresented political and societal views on science and scientists.

In his recent SETAC Globe editorials, “SETAC’s Voices for Science” and “Building Communication Bridges Around the Globe,” SETAC Global Executive Director Charlie Menzie emphasized the growing interest and importance of communicating SETAC science beyond the comfortable walls of our society’s membership to “bridge the perceived divide that exists between scientists and the rest of society.” In these articles, he highlighted many of the activities at all levels within SETAC to facilitate this engagement, from chapter-led initiatives to those at both geographic unit and SETAC global levels.

As co-chairs of the SETAC North America Public Outreach Committee (SNAPOC), we would like to continue this dialogue by describing the goals and activities of SNAPOC that will allow us to meet the goal of “bridging communication gaps” by developing ways to promote SETAC science through stronger engagement of SETAC membership and the public. First, let us invite you to visit the recently updated SNAPOC webpage. Our hope is that this webpage will become a clearinghouse for information related to SETAC North America outreach activities. Much of what we describe here is available on the website, including group pages, the committee blog and subcommittee descriptions.

An important role of the SNAPOC is to review prospective public pronouncements from SETAC North America and its subsidiary groups while fully addressing the respective interests and concerns of SETAC’s tripartite membership. Of course, outreach can come in many forms including (but not limited to): technical information (e.g., society journals, subject-specific technical information pieces), education (e.g., teaching modules and classroom visits), policy engagement and the process of science communication. These four areas, in fact, form the current operational foundation for the SNAPOC, which has recently created a subcommittee for each.

Technical Issue Papers (TIPs) Subcommittee

The idea for the creation of TIPs, whose purpose is to provide concise, credible and balanced scientific discussions about important environmental issues, has actually been around for many years in SETAC. Examples of TIPs developed some years ago can be found on the SETAC website. The existing TIPs cover topics such as endocrine disruption, risk assessment and sound science, among others. New TIPs have not been generated for several years, and the existing ones are in need of review and updating. The purpose of this committee, therefore, is to identify the needs for specific TIPs and work with others to develop them. The goal is to develop a well-vetted content library of technical information for society members and the public on historical and emerging environmental issues and concepts. Persons interested in participating on this subcommittee should contact the chair, Danielle Cucchiara.

Engaging Policy Subcommittee

Many environmental and ecological societies engage in science-policy discussions, but SETAC has been somewhat guarded in this arena throughout its history. The purpose of this committee is to determine the extent to which SETAC North America should engage in policy discussion on specific topics. Outputs of the committee might include the preparation of policy statements on various environmental topics of interest. Persons interested in participating on this subcommittee should contact the chair, Paul Sibley.

K-12 Science Education Subcommittee

Engaging the public through education programs is of critical importance in this era of increasing science skepticism. The purpose of this subcommittee is to develop ways to engage youth through science education from kindergarten to grade 12, and also non-STEM college students. Here, we can learn much from the experience of other societies and institutions who specialize in science education, such as the Toxicology Education Foundation (TEF), Society of Toxicology (SOT) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Envisioned outputs from this subcommittee include teaching modules for the classroom, providing resources to assist in the teaching of environmental science, and engagement with SETAC North America chapters to promote local activities and environmental awareness. Persons interested in participating on this subcommittee should contact the chair, Danielle Cucchiara.

Science Communication Subcommittee

The capacity to articulate the scientific underpinnings of existing and emerging environmental issues in plain language is essential if we are to be successful in communicating SETAC science to the public. The purpose of this subcommittee is to train SETAC scientists to effectively communicate science to non-scientists, such as news media, legislators and the public in general. SETAC North America has already had great success in this area. For example, the Dialogue Group on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform was instrumental in advising a number of regulatory bodies on the science behind chemical management in the United States. The group met with regulators to offer advice to help inform them of the science underpinning components of the Act. This was facilitated by the development of two technical issues papers, The Role of the Weight of Evidence in Environmental Hazard Assessment and Ecological Risk Assessment of Chemicals: An Integration of Hazard and Exposure. Persons interested in participating on this subcommittee should contact the chair, Stuart Cohen.

Finally, the SNAPOC is excited to be part of the planning for the first “Town Hall” meeting to be held during the SETAC North America 38th Annual Meeting this November in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Town Hall will bring SETAC science to the public by engaging on issues of local importance, listening, modeling our civility in sharing diverse perspectives, and using plain language. Stay tuned for more information though the Globe and on the meeting website.

If you are interested in becoming involved in the activities of the SNAPOC and any of its subcommittees, please feel free to contact any of the co-chairs or subcommittee chairs at the emails provided below.

We would be delighted to have you join in sharing SETAC’s Voices for Science!

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