Ocean Science: The Final, Final Frontier

Anna Pinkert | March 28, 2014
Bob Chen at UMass Boston

Bob Chen at UMass Boston
Image by: Harry Brett

Oceanographer and science education expert Bob Chen is happy to see Neil deGrasse Tyson talking up astrophysics in the new Fox miniseries Cosmos, and he dreams of a similar level of popular enthusiasm for ocean science. In a new report, Chen's colleagues present some unorthodox suggestions for how scientists and educators could increase the public’s understanding of the ocean’s impact on everyday life.

“We haven’t made a huge dent in ocean literacy. If you’re in Kansas, you could say ‘well, it’s raining today but that has nothing to do with the ocean,’” Chen said.  We’re really good at telling people about the facts. What we’re not good at is getting them to care.”

In the report published by the School for the Environment at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Chen and his colleagues with COSEE Ocean Inquiry Group have made a wide range of recommendations to get more people, young and old, to take an interest in the world’s oceans. The authors of the report include scientists and educators from nationally recognized museums, aquaria, and academic institutions.

Games, social media, and even advertising could influence the public to be less passive about the world’s oceans. Chen has been involved with a local Boston ad campaign that uses an ostrich character to educate MBTA riders about climate change.

“The advertising industry has it figured out,” says Chen, “I can get 500,000 people to look at this ad. I can’t get 500,000 people to look at my peer-reviewed journal article.”

The COSEE report also recommends that science educators work with corporations in the “Blue Economy” to help increase ocean science literacy. According to the report, defense contractors, fisheries, and the energy industry are “untapped resources” that could be leveraged to deliver basic scientific facts to the public.

Chen and the COSEE team believe that those companies with a vested interest in creating a new generation of ocean scientists could assist in bringing more information about the ocean to the general public.

UMass Boston was a part of the original COSEE collaborative, funded by the NSF. The university, a leader in ocean science education, recently partnered with the New England Aquarium to increase research opportunities for faculty and students.

Chen and his colleagues in the School for the Environment are passionate about bringing the latest ocean science to the public.

“We know more about space than we do about the ocean!” says Chen, “If you want to know what contaminants are in your food, or why hurricanes form, or where your drinking water comes from, you need to know about the ocean.”

Tags: chen , cosee , csm , environment , oceans , publications , science , sfe

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