Academic journal article Peer Review

Science, Curriculum, and Public Controversies

Academic journal article Peer Review

Science, Curriculum, and Public Controversies

Article excerpt

Scientists, medical practitioners, and other "specialists" certainly must be prepared to cope with public controversies related to their work: from scientists who serve on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to medical researchers and health professionals who explain the dangers of opting out of required vaccinations for personal, not medical, reasons. In many cases, scientists and medical practitioners play an active role in public deliberation on crucial issues. Yet to what degree does higher education in science, medicine, and other technical areas prepare students for these challenges as well as foster deeper knowledge and respect for the communities affected? We write this essay to suggest ideas based on our combined experiences about how the curriculum provides this preparation.


Since the US Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975, the 566 federally recognized tribes have put in place their own educational, health, environmental, and other governmental agencies and departments that rely on scientists to perform research and regulatory functions that support tribal selfdetermination and cooperation with state, federal, nonprofit organizations, and private entities. For tribes, this ideally involves hiring scientists who are themselves tribal members or members of other tribes, or scientists of other heritages who have the cultural and social competency to work in tribal contexts. One of the authors (Whyte) has worked on connecting tribes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics tools, especially those of climate science, for tribal planning purposes.

A number of case studies point out that scientists in tribes are often responsible for convening public deliberation and dialogue about controversial issues. In the changing world in which we live, this involves issues of what species should be restored with limited funds or whether jobs should be traded off for environmental quality. For example, in the Little Band of Ottawa Indians, who live in what is now known to most as the Manistee, Michigan, area, tribal biologists helped to organize a cultural context group made up of a range of tribal members, from staff to elders to ordinary tribal citizens. This group holds cross-cutting deliberations about how to build programs that engage with nontribal members on key issues affecting the environment. These deliberative efforts have led to the creation of a unique restoration program-the Lake Sturgeon Stewardship program-which has brought together tribal members and others around a vision of taking responsibility for the environmental quality of the watershed (Holtgren 2013).

Many people working in Indian country today understand the importance of tribal scientists convening deliberative processes and the mentoring of future tribal scientists. Tribal colleges and universities are taking the lead in educating students to take on these roles in addition to their "lab" scientific training. The Sustainable Development Institute at College of Menominee Nation (CMN) has an active internship program that is highly integrated within research, education, and outreach projects and can include sometimes up to fifteen college students enrolled in different disciplines at CMN and other institutions of higher education.

In the internship program, the students not only learn about sustainability science, how to do research, and how to carry themselves professionally-they are also expected to take part in and organize the deliberative events organized by the institute. In one case in 2014, the interns supported the organization of a 150-attendee deliberative summit connecting tribal scien- tists with federal climate scientists. In another case in 2015, the Sustainable Development Institute organized an Indigenous Planning Summer Institute, which was geared toward providing interns with lessons and materials on how to engage in the deliberations needed for tribal planning. …

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