The Periodic Table On

Bassam's Call to Action
First appearing in Wisconsin People & Ideas,
Vol. 55, No. 2 (Spring 2009).

The mission of the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy is to promote literacy in science, mathematics and technology among the general public and to attract future generations to careers in research, teaching and public service.

Society is increasingly dependent on science and technology. It is essential for the well-being of our society that all citizens develop an appreciation of science, the benefits of technology, and the potential risks associated with advances in both. Citizens must gain "science literacy."

Science literacy does not require detailed knowledge of any particular field, but rather a broad appreciation and understanding of what science is capable of achieving and, equally important, what science cannot accomplish. Science literacy is necessary for the democratic process to work. We make a distinction between scientific literacy, expertise in a particular field, and science literacy, a broad appreciation and understanding of science and its practitioners, and of what science is capable of achieving and what it cannot accomplish.

Science literacy enlightens and enables people to make informed choices, to be skeptical, and to reject shams, quackery, unproven conjecture, and to avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned. Science literacy is for everyone—scientists, artists, humanists, all professionals, the general public, youth and adults alike.

Society makes progress in addressing critical issues by having both a skilled, creative, and productive work force and a citizenry able to judge the risks and enjoy the benefits of advances in science and technology. WISL seeks to boost opportunities for educational success for all students, especially those from under-represented groups, and to empower adults to participate responsibly in our cherished democratic institutions. WISL aims to enhance the development of talent for careers in science and for careers in science teaching and to advance the level of appreciation of science among the non-practitioners who are its beneficiaries. WISL advocates the exploration and establishment of links between science, the arts, and the humanities. WISL promotes the elevation of discourse on significant societal issues related to science, religion, politics, the economy, and ethics.

WISL is directed by Professor Bassam Z. Shakhashiri of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chemistry Department. Programs draw on the concepts developed by Dr. Shakhashiri during many years of innovative work in science education. He draws upon his extensive experience as a faculty member at the University for over 50 years, his work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Chemical Education, and his six years as the chief education officer of the National Science Foundation. WISL program offerings benefit greatly from the intellectual contributions and commitment of its staff, Fellows, Affiliates, and audiences.

Support is sought from individuals, business and civic groups, and private and governmental sources. Support for this program will have a direct and continuing impact on our nation's ability to maintain its leadership in the sciences and in technology and on advancement of science and science education around the world.




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