The cover of National Geographic magazine’s March 2015 issue is framed in my home office. The image of a staged moon landing, and five short sentences challenging common known facts serve as the backdrop for an ominous title: “The War on Science.” In the excellent article “The Age of Disbelief,” Joel Achenbach and photographer Richard Barnes quote geophysicist Marcia McNutt, now president of the National Academies of Sciences, who said, “scientific thinking has to be taught and sometimes it is not taught well,” and that struck a chord. You see, I am the head of philanthropy for Amgen, a leading medical biotechnology company that is founded with a simple yet powerful mission: serving patients fighting serious illnesses. As a business, we believe the answers lie in challenging the frontiers of biology, and pursuing the discovery, development, manufacturing, and commercialization of innovative medicines. Our staff come to work every day with a clear ambition: helping patients with cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and other ailments that bring so much pain and suffering. Innovation propels us forward; we must heed National Geographic’s warning.
Through our philanthropy we are trying to address a root cause of this issue by improving scientific literacy and inspiring the next generation of innovators. We believe that unless our youth is equipped with the confidence (and the courage) to ask hard questions, and the ability to go find answers themselves, we are indeed in trouble.
We are proud to have recently announced that we are investing $10.5M to renew and expand the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) to reach an additional 300,000 students over the next three years. We also published fresh and robust evaluation data from WestEd that shows ABE student participants have had significant and substantial gains in learning biotechnology, with 82% getting new ideas about what happens in science labs.
Our 2016 report “Students on STEM” showed teens generally like science—and biology in particular—and would like the opportunity to do more engaging, hands-on science in school. ABE delivers on all these fronts, and is backed by the most important ally anyone could have in advancing scientific literacy: science teachers. Wendy Wooten, a biology teacher at Reseda High School said it best, “Through ABE my students get to experience the joy of discovery first hand… they get to be real life scientists.” Policymakers from both sides of the aisle have lent their support to ABE too, see here for a feature on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy visiting an ABE class in Bakersfield, CA, and here for House Representative Joe Kennedy in an ABE class in Boston, MA.
In these challenging times the imperative to be at our best is ever more important. Please join us in bringing excellent science education to all students, and follow the stories of teachers from across the U.S., and eleven countries around the world in bringing real life biotechnology to their students.