Reflections on Civic SciencePosted: December 8, 2011
By John P. Spencer, PhD
I am a basic scientist, and I absolutely adore scientific research. I love developing new theories, the thrill of new data, and making discoveries. I also relish the communal nature of scientific inquiry—I often tell people that I have the best set of students and colleagues in the world.
But a funny thing happened about 10 years ago—I discovered that what I do is relevant. I was at a local conference on child development, education, and intervention research feeling oddly out of place. After listening to talks all day, I found myself talking to a parent during one of the breaks. He was at the conference representing his local parent group. He also had a special needs child at home. I asked him my burning question from the day: how do you think children develop? He said, “No one has ever asked me that. I’m not really sure.” We had a great discussion. He told me wonderful stories about his daily interactions with his daughter. I told him about the fascinating discoveries researchers have made about how those daily, moment-by-moment interactions create development. In this exchange, a civic scientist was born.
I’m still discovering what ‘civic science’ means to me. And I’m fortunate to have colleagues at the world-class research center I direct—the Delta Center—who are joining in the discovery process. Although I’m not sure where this path will lead, I’m convinced that it’s time to unleash the relevance of science, and direct engagement with other citizens is a critical first step