As it embarks on a new era of public engagement, the Academy of Natural Sciences has put out position statements on climate change, water, evolution, and biodiversity and extinction.
The academy has been, by its own estimation, pretty conservative throughout its more than 200-year history. But about a year ago, management decided that it wasn’t enough for its researchers to publish academic papers. The academy's leadership felt the need to speak more generally and openly to the public.
“Institutionally, we want to make sure we protect our credibility and don’t get caught up in anything that would be considered too partisan. But I think it’s also important, that when there is clear scientific evidence and when the science sort of directs us to think that we need to do things, that we are willing to say that,” said Roland Wall, the academy’s senior director for environmental initiatives.
Wall said putting the statements out was a big deal for the academy, but the statements themselves simply reaffirm scientific consensus on the issues.
“I don’t think we went out on a limb with anything," he said. "We said, in terms of climate change, it is occurring, it’s a human-caused phenomenon, and we think something needs to be done about it.”
Wall added that public discourse and politics on science have only gotten more contentious since the academy started developing its statements.
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash science funding across many disciplines, and his refusal to accept scientific consensus around climate change is widely seen as anti-science.
Todd Happer, a spokesman for the Association of Science-Technology Centers — a trade group for science museums and institutions — said statements like the academy’s are a relatively new phenomenon. But, Happer said, at least anecdotally, many of the association’s members are actively discussing or drafting statements of their own.