Why Physicists Have a Responsibility to Society

Presentation to the March Meeting of the American Physical Society, February 27, 2012, Boston, MA.

The debate and controversy over the National Science Foundation (NSF) criterion on broader societal impacts of NSF-funded research have served the important function of challenging the physics community to reexamine why public money should support pure and applied physics research and what is the role of physicists in society. I will argue that the criterion, while well intentioned, appears ill informed and runs the risk of creating a check list of activities that will seemingly fulfill physicists’ responsibility to connect their work to larger societal issues.

Moreover, I will argue in favor of having a portion of government-funded research for scientific investigations based primarily, if not solely, on the intellectual and scientific merits of the proposals. Most government-funded research is already connected to larger societal impacts such as national defense, energy research, and economic issues. While I will call for reassessment of the NSF criterion on broader societal impacts, my talk will explain why physicists, as citizens and scientists, must reenergize their efforts to positively effect society and will offer advice about how they can do so. Please find my presentation here.

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One Response to “Why Physicists Have a Responsibility to Society”

  1. Arthur Blundell February 28, 2012 at 8:39 PM #

    Most People really do not want to understand science. They only want to know the “National Inquirer” versions. Most of them only want results, and those have to be tailored to be easily utilized by the denizens of second or third graders. In the last ten years, I have not had ONE person ask me for information reguarding my chosen field. (Other than what is might be) As for educating the general public, I seriously doubt there is any chance for success in that endevor.It would require too much effort, and it cannot be ‘dummed down” to fit the general interest levels..Most people today are ‘Users” not “creators”.

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