Science matters, especially in times of crisis. As modern history shows, we relied on science to help solve some of the most pressing technical challenges and identify solutions that would address major public health crises, including the Spanish flu, polio, and HIV/AIDS. In the role of bettering the human condition, science has been largely dependable. It’s been a constant.
Now, in the throes of yet another test, science has a critical moment. Over the past several months, scientists have mobilized unprecedentedly, through global collaborations and innovative technologies, to give us our best chance at beating COVID-19. On Dec. 14, as the first batch of a federally approved coronavirus vaccine was administered to health care workers across the United States, science emerged victorious.
Still, hurdles remain. Beyond the complex logistics of widespread, urgent vaccine distribution, one significant obstacle to its rollout is public skepticism of the options. Science centers like the Franklin Institute, of which I am president and CEO, have a crucial role in educating the public to ensure no one is denied the benefits of scientific advancement based on misinformation.
Both the recovery of our city and nation and the longer-term efforts to advance public health and scientific research to prevent and minimize the impact of future crises like this depends upon the ability of science and technology centers, as well as museums, to provide quality lifelong STEM education and learning for all. Such organizations — including the Franklin Institute, where 64.4% of our revenue in 2019 came from earned income — rely heavily on ticket sales, education and program fees, memberships, and facility rentals, to deliver their societal missions to advance a public understanding of and engagement with science, technology, and our natural world. Since the coronavirus pandemic forced shutdowns in March, we’ve faced a collective loss estimated at $1 billion in revenue nationwide.
Even as institutions begin partial reopening, attendance is a fraction of what it would typically be at this time of year. At the Franklin Institute, this shattering financial loss was further compounded by necessary program cuts and painful staff reductions.
During these critical times, philanthropy and government funding become the sole lifeline for institutions like The Franklin Institute to continue to foster the mission and feed the ever-essential pipeline of immunologists, research scientists, clinicians, doctors, nurses, and all of those who will be part of a future STEM ecosystem that allows for scientific achievements like overcoming the coronavirus to happen.
As we emerge from this current crisis, increased philanthropic investment from the private and public sector is essential to allow quality STEM education initiatives to reach deeply into our communities, most especially those which are under-resourced.
Everyone has a role to play in surmounting this pandemic. Education is our role at the nation’s most trusted institutions, and we strive to be a community anchor and economic engine for Philadelphia. At times like this, we must rise to face the challenges ahead and continue our commitment to science. Be it virtual learning support for students, science engagement for families, expert partnerships around COVID-19 analysis, or PPE creation for local health care workers, scientists and educators are at the forefront of communicating and delivering evidence-based science to the community.
Never has science mattered more, and never has it been more critical to build community science literacy.
It’s our best chance, our fighting chance, at finally overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and conquering future threats of this magnitude.