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News Release 07-069

NSF Funding to Advance Research on Interplay Between Biology and Society

Darwin's famed letters about finch evolution are a subject of NSF's Science and Society awards.

Darwin's famed letters about finch evolution are a subject of NSF's Science and Society awards.

June 15, 2007

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Scientists will find new ways of understanding the interactions of the biological sciences with society, as a result of awards from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) directorates for biological sciences and for social, behavioral, and economic sciences.

The awards are part of the Science and Society Program. They will allow researchers to address current issues, trends and questions relevant to the impacts of biology on society, and vice versa.

Topics to be studied include widely disseminating the letters and other correspondence of Charles Darwin; ways to foster scientific collaboration with Native American communities on issues of sustainability; how populations in Brazil have used scientific information to adapt water systems to climate change; and how concepts of "biodiversity" have changed over time and the impact of these changes on conservation efforts.

The goal of the Science and Society Program is to fund research that examines questions that arise in the interactions of engineering, science, technology, and society. A subset of these awards focuses specifically on the intersections of biology and society.

"Science and scientists don't operate in isolation," said Paul Farel, program director in NSF's directorate for biological sciences. "Their research can have profound implications for the wider world. This program emphasizes that science is an integral part of our social and cultural context."

"Research in biology, which includes ecology and genetics, has had a tremendous impact on society," said Fred Kronz, program director in NSF's directorate for social, behavioral and economic sciences. "There are substantial and important reciprocal impacts. These mutual influences have been growing for decades and are rapidly accelerating."

A project by the American Council for Learned Societies and led by Frederick Burkhardt will continue work on editing the correspondence of Charles Darwin. Darwin's correspondence is a primary source for understanding the intellectual revolution in which he was the central figure. Because a central goal of the project is to disseminate Darwin's letters and associated materials as widely as possible, the researchers will maintain a large online data base and provide materials for the benefit of teachers, schoolchildren and the general public.

Another project, led by Keith James at Portland State University, is looking at ways to contribute to the sustainability and well-being of Native American communities. These communities are experiencing profound changes as a result of climate change, population increases, natural resource demands and other pressures. The researchers hope to better understand the views that both mainstream scientists and Native American community members bring to efforts at collaboration.

A project led by Maria Carmen Lemos at the University of Michigan asks whether an increase in knowledge about climate variability can offset its expected negative effects. The study looks at poor communities in Brazil where climate change is expected to impact less developed regions of the world, especially those in the Southern Hemisphere.

Scientists will also study how definitions and concepts of diversity--ecological diversity and biodiversity--have changed over time. Sahotra Sarkar at the University of Texas at Austin will address finding a better understanding of the context and cultural origins of these terms, which should help conservationists resolve disputes among stakeholders.


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

Program Contacts
Frederick M. Kronz, NSF, (703) 292-7283, email:
Rita Teutonico, NSF, (703) 292-7118, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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