HHMI and Science partner to improve science education

December 15, 2005

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the journal Science have begun a collaboration to showcase innovative approaches to teaching science through a new monthly section of the journal that will debut in 2006. The new section will provide a vehicle to engage research scientists in thinking about ways to improve education at all levels, by providing a forum for sharing ideas and sparking discussion.

The Institute, through its HHMI Professors Program and grants for undergraduate, graduate, and K-12 science education, already has invested more than $1 billion in science education since 1988. HHMI professors are accomplished researchers who want to develop innovative approaches to undergraduate science teaching. HHMI currently supports undergraduate science education programs at 86 colleges and universities and 18 biomedical research institutions to do K-12 science education in their communities.

"Why Science?" remarked Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs "Because that's where the scientists are. Science is read by scientists, and scientists are an important key to great science education. Good research and good teaching can go hand in hand to the mutual benefit of both."

The new education section will be produced by Science's editorial staff, under the direction of senior editor Pamela Hines. It will feature peer-reviewed research as well as scholarly literature reviews, essays, and other original writing on science education. The section will focus on undergraduate and graduate level education, but will also showcase innovations in K-12 science education.

In an editorial to be published in the December 16, 2005, issue of Science, HHMI President Thomas R. Cech and Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy explain the need for a science education forum in a research journal. They describe the plight of science education and the pressing need to revitalize it. Telling the story of Kate--an eager college freshman whose interest in science was quickly turned off by large classes, lab experiments with predetermined answers, many of which she had already done in high school--Cech and Kennedy report that "it only took one year of science classes at the large research university to turn Kate into a business major."

Why should research scientists care? There are two reasons, write Kennedy and Cech:
  • The "pipeline issue" -- where will we get the next generation of research leaders?
  • The policymaking threat posed by voters.who do not understand science or the scientific thinking process.

    Although the number of Ph.D.s in science and engineering granted by U.S. universities increased 45 percent since 1974, American citizens accounted for only 11 percent of that increase. "That makes non-U.S. citizens, most holding temporary visas, largely responsible for our keeping pace with the country's need for scientists," Cech and Kennedy point out. "Clearly, something is turning Kate and her classmates away from careers in science."

    And, they say bluntly, "the future of the world is at stake." They explain, "If the electorate distrusts science and doesn't understand how scientists explore the natural world, how will they vote on issues ranging from stem cell research and global climate change to the teaching of intelligent design in our schools?"

    The journal has issued a call for submissions for the new section. Articles should be less than 2,000 words in length and should represent content not previously published. Manuscripts can be submitted online at http://www.submit2science.org.

    Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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