Page 517

impacts? Are we poisoning ourselves? What are the implications for reproductive health?

Rethinking Biodiversity

Fourth, we will have gone a long way toward rethinking biodiversity, and perhaps we will be calling it something new. I'm not sure “ecosystem services” is much better. Maybe “nature's services”?

The point is that we have to tell the story better. Why do we preserve snail darters or kangaroo rats? Why do we study nematodes? How does the web of life fit together? And what does it do for the average citizen of the world?

On other issues, we have learned to tell the story:

• When the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, it became the poster event for the environmental movement.

• Asthma caused people to worry about their children and got us the Clean Air Act.

• Lead and learning were linked, and we removed lead from gasoline.

• Lakes were dying, and we understood acid rain and cleaned up our utilities.

• And maybe we will learn about global warming. Is El Niño the trailer for Climate Change the movie?

I predict that the link of nature's services to the science of biodiversity will become the way to tell the story. The links with economics will give us new tools to become loud messengers. And I can guarantee that until we all do a better job of telling the story, the Endangered Species Act will continue to be under attack and the Biodiversity Treaty will remain unratified for want of a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

One of the signal events of the third Conference on Nature and Human Society will be the awarding of a new prize, awarded for science in service to society. Perhaps we will call it the Ed Wilson Prize for Effective Individual Achievement, for the scientist who did the best job in translating his or her discipline to the public. Or the Peter Raven Award for Institutional Relevance, given to the scientific institution that best used its reach to advance public engagement in the preservation of the natural world.

No matter what the name, the point is this: For too long, those public-spirited scientists who sought to take their science outside the laboratory, to the public, to the television audience—or, Heaven forbid, to the political arena—have been punished. To tell the story, to popularize, to explain has somehow been unscientific; it sullied the profession, and those who did it were suspect and unpromotable. It is imperative that we as a society—and individual scientists—do a better job of rewarding those who translate their science, who bring it to the public's attention, and who foster broad public understanding.

My first tutor in thinking about science was Walter Roberts, a wonderful man and founder of the National Center for Atmospheric Science in Boulder. Walter taught me and others about the commitment of science in service to society, and

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement