In what could easily typify conventional wisdom about public engagement with science, the National Academies (specifically the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering) has announced that Pittsburgh will be the pilot city for its Science and Engineering Ambassadors program. The program
“will select, prepare, and support a team of science and engineering ambassadors—beginning with the topic of energy—to work in their local communities to improve the public understanding of and engagement with energy-related issues, while also providing opportunities for scientists and engineers to interact with members of their community.”
Energy was selected for Pittsburgh because of the region’s long-time involvement with energy production. While the program sounds promising, it’s hard not to see a bit of condescension. While the program seems to recognize that some scientists and engineers could use some assistance and resources for communicating with those outside their field, the focus on institutions and opinion leaders strikes me as incomplete. If there is an interest in really improving communication with the public, it would help to engage with the public to see what the gaps might be. Talking with opinion leaders and key local institutions can only get you so far.