Looking Forward To A Year of Science 2009 marks 150 years since the publication of Darwin's On The Origin of Species, and the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of a telescope to study the skies. M. Lee Allison is an organizer of a "Year of Science 2009," a celebration of scientific methods and discoveries.
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Looking Forward To A Year of Science

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Looking Forward To A Year of Science

Looking Forward To A Year of Science

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This is Talk of the Nation, Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. Up first, we're ringing in the New Year with science. Two-thousand nine is chock full science anniversaries. For example, it's the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species." 400 years ago this year, Galileo first turned his telescope toward the skies and Johannes Kepler published the first two laws of planetary motion. And to honor these anniversaries, the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science has designated 2009 as a Year of Science. Here to tell us about the science celebrations in store for us this year is Lee Allison. He is the state geologist of Arizona, president of the Arizona Geological Society and one of the organizers of the Year of Science 2009. He joins us by phone from his office in Tucson. Welcome to Science Friday.

Dr. LEE ALLISON (Director and State Geologist, Arizona Geological Survey; President, Arizona Geological Society): Thank you, Ira. Happy New Year and Happy Year of Science.

FLATOW: Happy Year of Science to you. I'm going to be up in Boston this weekend helping join that celebration. Tell us, what else is going on?

Dr. ALLISON: Well, we're really excited that you're going to be the official launch tomorrow at a biological conference to launch Year of Science, but we're actually linking hundreds, and probably thousands now, of activities all over the country, all year long, big and small. And it's a grassroots event - series of events. So, what we're trying to do is get groups and activities and programs that already do things in science and public education and outreach to link together and share some resources, share some common branding and logos and themes and work together to promote the role of science in society.

FLATOW: This seems like a particularly good year to start the Year of Science.

Dr. ALLISON: I think so. The - in the last few years, we've seen America rethink its role in dealing with science and there's been growing grassroots efforts - and it's across all segments, in academia, in government, and in industry, recognizing that we haven't been investing the resources into science and paying attention like we should've. And the economy is suffering in part because of that and we're falling behind. And so, there's support from all over the country and saying, yeah, we need to go back and rethink about science and society. And let's do that by celebrating it.

FLATOW: And how can people find out about science events near them or in their town?

Dr. ALLISON: Well, at the Year of Science website, yearofscience2009.org, and I think it's linked on your webpage, we've got lists of events and some search tools to help people figure out what's going on in everyone's communities. Just type in your zip code and up comes a list of things that are already there. And we want to invite people today who are listening to register their sites. If you've got some kind of activity, link it in with the Year of Science activities already under way and register it, so that everyone else can find out what's going on.

FLATOW: So, you're sort of creating a science social network?

Dr. ALLISON: Absolutely. That's a key component of what we're doing. When we started forming this coalition a couple of years ago, we recognized that everybody we talk to has some kind of program going on or multiple programs, and we weren't aware of what each other were doing. So, by linking, sharing best practices, learning from each other and leveraging some very limited resources, what we've found is that we're building a much bigger series of events than we could try to do on our own.

FLATOW: Now, the last time there was this huge national groundswell of interest in science was back in the '60s, during the moon shot era. Do we need something like that again?

Dr. ALLISON: You know, a lot of people want to see another one of those Sputnik moments that really galvanize society. And I think most of us recognize that that was a unique event. And we're not going to see that repeated as it is. But we have seen a growing groundswell all across every segment of society in the last two to three years of coming back and rethinking the way we deal with science in there. And I think the election here just a few months ago has reinforced that, that President-elect Obama seems to be getting it, in terms of the role of science in society. And we're seeing that at the state levels as well. And so, we're not going to have another Sputnik moment, but we're coming at it from a different perspective.

FLATOW: Are you going to have different foci - focus - I haven't used that word in a long time...

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: For every month of the year?

Dr. ALLISON: Yeah, that's one of the fun things. January is the nature and process of society. But February, with the anniversary of Darwin's birth, is going to be evolution. March is physics and technology. And so, each month - and you can see the themes on our Web site - we have a different theme tying in generally with some big events happening across the country. So, every month has a different theme and a variety of events going on.

FLATOW: So, how will you know, when the year is up, whether you have been successful or not?

Dr. ALLISON: I think we're already successful. Ground roots are - ground roots? I'm sorry. Grassroots support has really taken off. We're getting organizations joining the network every day. We now have something like over 475 groups that are participating. They collectively represent over a million scientists and science educators across the country. And we're seeing networks starting to form locally. We now have 14 regional hubs that have formed when people started discovering that the museum down the street and the elementary school around the corner all had some science programs. And those groups are working together. So we're seeing a grassroots development in communities all over the country. So, I think we've got a major success already.

FLATOW: Well, good luck to you. Give us the details on how to find out more about it one more time.

Dr. ALLISON: Year - www.yearofscience2009.org.

FLATOW: And if they melt that server, (Laughing) you can go to sciencefriday.com, where we have a mirror backup to getting to that server. Thank you very much and good luck to you.

Dr. ALLISON: Thanks very much, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Lee Allison is state geologist of Arizona and the president of the Arizona Geological Society and one of the organizers of Year of Science 2009.

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