Improving Public Understanding of Technology

  • Prosperity
  • 1993

Alfred Sloan, son of a machinist, finished an electrical engineering degree at MIT in three years, graduating as the youngest member of his class. He later presided over the rise of General Motors into the world’s biggest auto manufacturer. So it is appropriate that his Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is focused on technology and science. In addition to funding for basic research and efforts to improve the teaching of science and math—areas where many other foundations are also active—Sloan has one unusual program that aims to help everyday Americans understand and appreciate technical achievements. One of its major undertakings is an effort to expand “Public Understanding of Science, Technology, & Economics.” Since 1993 it has supported more than 100 top authors as they researched and wrote a large span of science books that “aim to reach a wide, lay audience.” These have included works like physicist Freeman Dyson’s Disturbing the Universe, the personal reflections of biologist Francis Crick in What Mad Pursuit, Astronomer by Chance by Bernard Lovell, fractal-geometry creator Benoit Mandelbrot’s memoir, and analyses of scientific issues by writers like Jared Diamond, Kai Bird, and Richard Rhodes. In addition to supporting books, the program encourages plays, films, and radio and TV programming that open doors to wider understanding of science.