Thursday, March 29, 2012

College alumni associations could act as alma mater megaphones

Houston, we have a problem, in citizens' regard for science; but your local alumni association may have the power to solve it.  (Edited 03-30)

Conservatives' trust in science has fallen considerably since the mid-70s, according to new research (link); and author Chris Mooney has reported that among Republicans, those who doubt global warming are more likely to to also believe, incorrectly, that there's active scientific disagreement on the issue. (link)

So correcting this scientific misimpression is important, as is exposure, directly or indirectly, to mainstream scientists and their research (like this music video);  we need to open up an information conduit from such research scientists to far-flung communities.  How to do this?  One way would be to elevate the role of university alumni organizations in these communities.  Right now, the alumni are asked to support (and thus empower) their alma mater mainly through fundraising; but why not let them empower it by widening and strengthening its sphere of influence, by more effectively spreading its knowledge?  A "diffusion model" of knowledge transfer doesn't work (link) when the channels are clogged by anti-science PR, and this damage weakens the university's influence on the wider world.  But if its mainstream scientists can deliver knowledge straight to the alumni, and then let the alumni handle the "last mile", the university's influence would be far greater.

Are any colleges partnering with their alumni for this purpose?
(An alumni magazine is one such channel, but talks, even by Skype or taped, would likely be more powerful.)

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