Nature’s Secrets

Sharing news with public? That’s progress

March 3, 2013 

Meg Lowman, an N.C. State University professor and forest canopy expert, directs the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center.

“You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal”

Bill Gates

2013

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just released its annual letter, providing an update on their progress toward creating a better world in which “every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life.” Their mission is daunting: Globally, it seeks to improve health, education, agriculture, sanitation, and the general state of the human condition. The goals of the foundation are based in part on the Millennium Development Goals, agreed upon by 189 nations as part of a United Nations pledge in 2000 to achieve them by 2015. That 15-year deadline is fast approaching.

The eight goals? 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; 2. achieve universal primary education; 3. promote gender equality and empower women; 4. reduce child mortality; 5. improve maternal health; 6. combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; 7. ensure environmental sustainability; and 8. develop a global partnership for development.

The world will not achieve success in the next two years.

The take-home messages for the 2013 annual report circulated by Bill Gates are two.

Gates expresses passion about the notion of setting lofty goals, and establishing clear metrics to achieve those goals. He speaks with pride about how his foundation reduced the number of children who die before the age of 5 –from 12 million kids in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011. Gates describes how basic medical services are now supplied to large expanses of rural Ethiopian farming communities where none had existed before.

A second message in the report is the notion that the success of any scientific breakthrough is critically dependent on whether it can be deployed and accepted by local people, whether vaccines, a water purification device or a new breed of rice.

New vaccines face challenges of both distribution logistics and development of trust by villagers to subject their children to outside technologies. In the world of broader scientific research, I witness amazing discoveries and findings made by brilliant scientists. But unless their findings are communicated to the public – and hopefully applied to solutions – such achievements are relatively useless to advance the human race.

We’re trying to do our part at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center, in Raleigh.

With its Daily Planet broadcasting to schools, and frequent Science Cafes giving a voice to Research Triangle scientists who make discoveries, the center is tackling the challenge of how to disseminate scientific breakthroughs and turn innovation into solutions.

Meg Lowman, an N.C. State University professor and forest canopy expert, directs the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center. Online: www.canopymeg.com.

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