Author: Secretary Reid Wilson
To borrow from pop culture, science is “everything, everywhere, all at once.”
Science explains how we humans are able to think and breathe, how plants turn sunlight into oxygen, how the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, and how dinosaur fossils we see in museums today were part of living creatures millions of years ago.
For centuries, scientific discoveries have improved and lengthened our lives, and life-changing advances are still being made today. From the rapid development of safe and effective Covid vaccines that saved millions of lives, to accurate predictions of how heat-trapping air pollution would alter our climate, to miracle cures and treatments for cancer and other diseases, to NASA’s planned return trip around the moon next year (with North Carolina native Christina Koch on board), scientists have put their expertise to good use to improve our world.
And yet, we’re in the midst of a big argument about science. According to a recent Pew survey, only 29% of Americans “have a great deal of confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interest.” That’s troubling. Scientists have spent their careers expanding our collective knowledge of how the natural world works; they know what they’re talking about.
Do scientists have all the answers? Of course not. Sometimes they find out what works, but other times they identify things that don’t work or that aren’t true. This work is done through a logical process of testing, observation, and data analysis.
Basing decisions on excellent and ethical science is the only way we can solve society’s big problems. But people put all kinds of crazy stuff on the internet these days, so it can be a daunting challenge for anyone to figure out what is real and what is not.
So what do we do about that? How do we hit the reset button on attitudes toward science? The first step is to expand and improve science education. It’s essential that we teach students (and their parents) about the scientific process so that they understand how scientific discovery works and can thereby discern for themselves what is fact and what is, frankly, garbage.
Every day our state science museums, aquariums, zoo, and parks serve up science education programs, providing moments of awe and wonder to students. Our staff never tire of seeing kids’ eyes pop wide open as they encounter something that was unimaginable to them 20 minutes before. These “aha” moments can inspire a child to pursue a career in the STEM fields, jobs that are in high demand and pay well.
To expand access to quality science across the state, our department and many partners recently launched the North Carolina Science Trail (www.ncsciencetrail.org). This interactive website puts at families’ fingertips more than 60 locations that offer in-person opportunities to explore North Carolina and experience science. In the coming months, we’ll have close to 100 participating sites, a mix of state entities, and NC Science Network members. The Network is a collection of outstanding local science museums and nature centers that works to boost science literacy.
These amazing natural areas and science centers throughout North Carolina will serve as a springboard toward a more universal understanding of the scientific process. That understanding is essential to rebuilding public trust in science so that together we can make sound decisions that chart a path toward a brighter future.
In North Carolina, the answer to the question, “Got science?” is an unequivocal “YES!” Come get your science at a NC Science Trail site!