The Mercury News

On Earth Day, promote greater scientific literacy.


President Joe Biden is hosting world leaders this week for a climate summit in which he is expected to announce a new goal for the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50% by 2030.

It’s a worthy goal for Earth Day 2021. But it also comes with a pressing need for Bay Area scientists to help Biden make the case for the aggressive approach, and for Bay Area residents to embrace the push for greater scientific literacy.

Communitie­s benefit from scientific advancemen­ts and knowledge. This we know.

People who keep abreast of the latest scientific developmen­ts make better health care decisions. They support efforts to maintain healthy neighborho­ods and fight climate change. But scientific literacy continues to lag scientific progress, despite the increasing availabili­ty of scientific informatio­n.

It’s distressin­g that a Pew Research Center poll in 2020 found that 35% of people think scientific research can be used to produce “any result a researcher wants.” The same poll reported that 39% of people say that scientists should stay out of policy debates about scientific issues. And 27% said they did not believe that science, on balance, has a mostly positive effect on society.

Public support will play a part in whether the president is able to succeed in winning a major boost in science spending that’s in his first budget proposal.

Biden is seeking a minimum of 20% increases for the National Oceanic and Atmospheri­c Administra­tion, Centers

for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmen­tal Protection Agency, National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Altogether, the budget calls for an $88 billion increase in science spending.

It’s a welcome reversal of President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal, which called for a 26% funding cut for the EPA, a 7% cut for the NIH and a 14% decrease for the NOAA. Congress resisted and restored the majority of Trump’s cuts, but Democrats’ narrow vote margin in the Senate will make for a bruising budget battle.

The potential benefits of the investment­s are significan­t.

The NOAA increase, for example, would provide $800 million for climate research and $500 million for weather and climate satellites.

In terms of health care, NIH government spending helped cut the cancer rate in the United States by 1.5% every year for 15 years between 2000 and 2015. Biden’s proposal would spend $6.5 billion on a new agency — the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health that would speed treatments for cancer and other diseases. NIH research is responsibl­e for a 43% positive return of public investment on drugs approved by the FDA in recent years.

Scientists often prefer to stay apolitical. That’s understand­able. But the future of publicly funded scientific research is on the line. The only way to address long-standing concerns about how much the public knows and understand­s about science is to fully engage in the effort for greater scientific literacy and investment.

 ?? ANDREW HARNIK — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, FILE ?? President Joe Biden is hosting 40 world leaders for a virtual conference on climate change today and Friday.
ANDREW HARNIK — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, FILE President Joe Biden is hosting 40 world leaders for a virtual conference on climate change today and Friday.

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