Building Natural Science Communities

The amount of information becoming available in the sciences is increasing at an astounding rate. In the field of genetics, for example, it has been estimated that the amount of new information doubles every 4.5 years! That means that in barely more than the normal period of time for a student to receive a college education, twice as much knowledge in this one field of study will be available for learning. Does this mean that faculty should lecture faster? Does it mean that historical information is of little value relative to what is new? Does it mean that genetics should become a sequence of courses rather than the traditional one or two courses?

In my estimation, the above example suggests that science education in the future, by necessity, will focus on helping students to understand better the nuances of the scientific process, to gain perspective on making judgments on scientific issues relative to what issues are pertinent to any given situation, and to learn how to use data and information acquisition systems effectively to gain access to pertinent details about a particular subject.

Students who specialize in science will continue to do so and they will most certainly seek in-depth answers to issues of personal interest, but no longer are students identifying themselves as a major in biology, chemistry, etc. Science is, always has been, and forever will be an interdisciplinary course of study. The interdisciplinary nature of science will be recognized in a formal manner, and by 2025 first-year students at universities and colleges will take some one (or set of) common denominator courses that will introduce them into the art of scientific investigation.

Many issues heretofore not traditionally associated with the sciences will become integral to all courses taught in science programs. Communication of scientific issues, principles, and thoughts will be a must, and thus students will be helped to develop skills in writing and public speaking. They will also be encouraged to question critically what they read (in both technical and popular literature) and to ask informed questions about relevant issues. Ethics in science will become of paramount importance (it is already important but not necessarily stressed) and students will be challenged with important tasks involving "risk assessment." For example, questions pertaining to issues of whether a scientific fact should be sought (e.g., splitting the atom) will be weighed against how this fact could be used (e.g., bombs or power).

Mathematics will increasingly become the language of the sciences. Mathematicians will finally come to grips with the understanding that "applied" mathematics is not bad, and we will find many mathematically-oriented scientists dispersed throughout what will be a large, interdisciplinary scientific division within an institution.

Finally, science will once again assume its overall importance in the general education of all students. Majors and nonmajor course distinctions will no longer exist, and issues of science will be dealt with in all fields of study throughout an institution.