Media Needs to Promote Science Literacy, Panel Says

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Byline: Christie Hart Daily Herald Staff Writer

Bill Kurtis likes to tell the story about the time he saw a UFO.

The news anchor-turned-science reporter had decided he was going to debunk the myth of flying saucers and make a documentary explaining away the alien-ship sightings.

He and his crew met with a woman who saw UFOs fly over her house at the same time every day. The next day, they set up their cameras in her yard and filmed something zipping through the sky.

Kurtis couldn't explain it at the time. In fact, the flying objects on the film remain unidentified. He and scientists still are kicking around theories of what caused the phenomena. It was natural, not alien, he insists.

But that's why Kurtis thinks it's a good science story. It hooks everyone who hears it, it can make an auditorium of middle schoolers and high schoolers fall silent listening, but it's still about good, solid science.

And - according to a panel featuring Kurtis and other science reporters who spoke Wednesday at the Illinois Math and Science Academy - that's what society needs to save itself.

Science is changing the world at a surprising pace and the general public has a responsibility to understand it, said Leon Lederman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who moderated the discussion.

"If people are going to exercise their citizenship and make their own choices, they need to be science literate," Lederman said. "It's becoming essential, if we want safe passage through the 21st century, for people to understand science. The bridge is in the media."

The Aurora high school hosted the panel to open up discussion of how students interested in science could and should connect with people who are less concerned with the topic.

Students from high schools and middle schools all over the Chicago area attended the discussion. The two-hour talk also was broadcast live to a network of colleges that relayed it to audiences at other high schools.

Lederman and Kurtis, along with New York Times science writer Malcolm Browne and PBS' NOVA executive producer Paula Apsell, talked about the importance of fostering an interest in science in anyone and everyone. …