Thursday, October 16, 2008

Darlene Cavalier is the Science Cheerleader 

Posted by James at 11:00 AM ET

Darlene CavalierDarlene Cavalier was a Cheerleader for the Philadelphia 76ers for three seasons: 1991-92 (the first year the 76ers had Cheerleaders), 1992-93 and 1993-94.

After she hung up her poms, she went on to work for Discover Magazine (she's still a consultant there) and became the Senior Manager of Global Business Development for Walt Disney Publishing Worldwide.

She worked with some of the brightest minds in science, the media and the government to create several national science awards programs, science education initiatives and TV programs, and a series of science-themed roundtable discussions for, among others, the Disney Institute at EPCOT, Space.com, Sally Ride’s Imaginary Lines, the National Science Foundation, and the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation.

A few years ago, Darlene returned to school and earned her Masters at the University of Pennsylvania. She dove into science history, sociology, and science policy to learn more about people like herself: people with no hard academic background who are deeply interested in science, especially in its public faces in science policy and science literacy.

In the process, Darlene uncovered a remarkable group of people she’d never seen or even heard about before. Scientific Citizens. Through their grass-roots, bottom-up efforts they aid research in a plethora of science fields by tagging butterflies, monitoring the health of water, keeping an eye on migratory patterns of birds, discovering new galaxies, and so much more.

Darlene believes that Citizen Scientists could and should do much more, though. They can multiply their manpower by enlisting the help of millions of other “average” citizens. They can push for the restoration of impartial, citizen-involved science advisory bodies and help shape public policy.

And so she's taking that same enthusiasm she had on the court and applying it to her latest endeavor, Science Cheerleader, an attempt to get the conversation going, rally the troops, solicit views from all sides and change the tone of science and science policy in this country.

Recently we interviewed Darlene by e-mail:

Pro Cheerleader Blog: What is the goal of The Science Cheerleader?

Darlene Cavalier: To improve science literacy in adults and create citizen scientists who can get involved in science policy. My goal is to be a conduit between the public, the scientists and the government. Disconnects exist where they should not. In other cases, we're seeing a real boom in the numbers of "average" people jumping in to change how science gets done. They're called "citizen scientists" and I've written a good deal about them on ScienceCheerleader.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer and ScienceProgress.org.

PCB: How do you feel science issues are being handled/presented in the Presidential and Congressional Campaigns?

DC: They weren't until the organizers of ScienceDebate2008.com banned together to change things. I am part of that team. It's heartening to see that a handful of people can still help motivate change in this country. The candidates have gone on record with their answers to the 14 most critical science policy questions. That's never happened before! Now, we're giving everyone with access to the Internet, an opportunity to read the questions and answers and grade the candidates on their replies!

PCB: What kind of reaction have you gotten from starting The Science Cheerleader?

Darlene Cavalier
DC: It's been incredible and overwhelming. I am even more resolved now to find ways to link the public to science in meaningful ways. I'd like to design a mechanism for the public to share their insights with Congress and other decision-makers when it comes to important science policy issues. Similar to what they do in the E.U. and in Denmark.

PCB: Any area of science that interests or fascinates you in particular?

DC: Space exploration! I'm a sucker for that freeze-dried ice cream.

PCB: In the short term what goals do you hope to achieve?

DC: I'd like more people (non-scientists) talking about science in the elections.

In the long term what goals do you hope to achieve? I want scientists and Congress to take the public seriously when it comes to science policy. I'd give people the tools they need to be considered "scientifically literate" and help them feel more confident and entitled to be part of such conversations.

PCB: What steps would you encourage people to take who are just now learning about and are intrigued by the idea The Science Cheerleader and Citizens Scientists?

DC: Call or email me, let me know you are interested in learning more and I can walk you through the steps. First thing is to understand and believe that every voter has a right to be part of science policy conversations: stem cell research, cloning, genetically modified foods, etc. They're based on real science but that's only half the conversation.

Values, economics and other factors determine how policies are set. We're financing most of this research, we should have a say in how they are implemented. As for becoming a Citizen Scientists--opportunities galore exist! Plenty of researchers are looking for citizens who are interested in getting involved.

PCB: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about science in this country, what would it be?

Every adult would be scientifically literate. It's not difficult.

PCB: Are your efforts solely focused on the US or is the Science Cheerleader international?

DC: I'm pushing for the U.S. but because the best examples of citizen participation in science policy exist in the EU and the Netherlands, this is becoming more and more of an international effort.

Penn and Teller just recorded a Science Cheerleader promo and Darlene is starting to work with Professional Cheerleaders and celebrities to create a series of fun, short and snappy videos based on 18 basic science concepts. Experts believe these 18 concepts are the key to becoming scientifically literate. She says, "Let's teach the nation, together, but let's make it fun!"

If there are any other professional cheerleaders interested in participating, Darlene invites them to jump right on board. She'll give them the "concept" (a line or two to read), and ask them to submit a video of them reading the line in their cheerleading outfit!) Dr. James Trefil (a science literacy expert) and she would then write up a deeper explanation of that particular concept. Darlene is looking for both individuals and teams of Professional Cheerleaders to participate.

To learn more Darlene, Citizen Scientists and how you can participate visit ScienceCheerleader.com.

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