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November 24, 1997

National Science Foundation director writes open letter to faculty

Neal F. Lane, director of the National Science Foundation, has urged scientists and engineers to renew their efforts to communicate about research with the public.

Lane's open letter, "Let's Get the Word Out Together About Why Science Matters," echoes the themes of addresses he gave earlier this year to two university public-affairs organizations.

While surveys show that the majority of Americans support scientific research, most people still do not understand what researchers do, Lane states. Further, many scientists and engineers believe they can do little to bridge that gap.

However, Lane says, community outreach--even on small scales--can have long-term benefits. He urges researchers to adopt a "civic scientist" approach to discuss their work, where possible, with the lay public.

"Today, public support must be earned," Lane writes. "We can no longer expect it in the form of a blank check and an undefined agenda."

Lane recommends that researchers work with public information officers at their institutions when they have newsworthy findings to report. Resulting stories in the popular press will reach broad audiences, he notes.

President Clinton appointed Lane to a six-year term as NSF director in 1993. A professor of physics, Lane had served as provost at Rice University in Houston since 1986.

You may view the complete text of Lane's letter at http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/media/nlaaultr.htm

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