Later, NASA official Alan Ladwig directly asked for feedback on how NASA is doing. Dexter Cole of the Science Channel and Lawler both agreed with Kaufman’s assessment that NASA is better than typical federal agencies. However, Lawler also offered a list of improvements NASA could make both at headquarters and the NASA field centers.
Separately, Billings observed that NASA’s efforts over the decades have focused on branding and marketing, which she concludes is ineffective. “The aim of marketing is to build public support, and what we all are talking about here is … informing people about the work of the science and scientists.” She believes the key to success is public participation, as described above.
In his remarks at the conclusion of the workshop, SSB chair Kennel commented that the convergence of computing and communications via the Internet and space communications at end of the 20th century has accelerated to this day. That, too, is a product of the science and technology revolution, he said, but because it changes relationships between human beings, it has the potential—combined with science—to produce a second enlightenment in the century we are now entering.
It is that second enlightenment, created by a partnership between science and communication, that will be critically needed to cope with stark problems of climate change and sustainability, Kennel believes. He feels that in the climate change area, the science community’s “honest attempts to communicate” failed. While a failure of communication in inspirational areas of space science may have consequences such as delaying funding, the failure of communication in the climate area “threatens our entire civilization,” he said.
In closing, Kennel voiced a clarion call to the National Academies to adjust to the revolution in communications.
[The] final message … is for our own National Academy. It is the principal social tool by which the United States translates scientific knowledge into the public and policy arena and therefore it cannot neglect the revolution in communications. We have also heard of how venerable media institutions who did not react to this revolution have failed and we have heard how those who did have continued to prosper in the present world because of the importance … of their brand and what they do. I think it is essential for the Academy in the next couple of years—and that is the time scale on which things are occurring—it is necessary for the Academy to adjust to the revolution in communications and the new media.
This doesn’t mean getting a few geeks into the back room and providing equipment to people, it means, like everything else, adjusting the social processes by which science is communicated and the people who work on it. I’m not sure I know how that will be done, but I think I can see the need. I am hoping that as we go forth with our study of the potential for human exploration beyond 2020 that we will be able to stimulate—this is an area where this kind of work is critical—and I hope we will be able to stimulate and help the Academy go through this transition. The one thing that is clear, it draws on the talents of many of the smartest people in the United States and it certainly can do it and I’m sure it will.