Aspen Institute Launches New Program to Explore Intersections of Science and Society

May 3, 2019

New initiative from the Aspen Institute will address critical gaps in public trust in, and understanding of, science

Jon Purves | The Aspen Institute
Senior Media Relations Manager

 Aaron Mertz | The Aspen Institute
Director, Science & Society Program

Ruth Katz | The Aspen Institute
Executive Director, Health, Medicine and Society Program

Washington, DC, May 3, 2019 – Recognizing the importance of science to the health and success of our nation and world, the Aspen Institute launched a new program called Science & Society, which will address critical gaps in public trust in, and appreciation of, advances in science. The program will examine the impact of those advances on diverse societies and the implications for social justice and also explore the tension between growing nationalism and the global nature of science.

“While the Aspen Institute has long recognized the important role of science in society, the time is right for a more focused effort,” said Elliot Gerson, Aspen Institute Executive Vice President for Policy, Public, and International Programs. “With science under fire from various sectors of our society, the work of this new program will be all the more timely and impactful.”

Through its various activities, the Science & Society Program (SSP) will seek to raise awareness and inform targeted audiences about present-day challenges at the intersection of science and our national community. SSP will endeavor to explain, connect, and maximize the many benefits of science, technology, and innovation, while striving to expand the audience of individuals who embrace the value and contribution of science to improving the human condition for all.

The Science & Society Program is housed within the Heath, Medicine and Society Program of the Aspen Institute. In addition to its focus on the biomedical sciences, SSP will engage with several other scientific disciplines, including the natural sciences, data science, and technology, and will explore how these fields intersect with the population at large through areas—such education, economics, and the environment—that cut across all segments of society.

“It is impossible to discuss health without discussing science, and vice versa,” said Ruth Katz, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Health, Medicine and Society (HMS) Program. “I am thrilled to have SSP among our constellation of HMS initiatives and excited about the expertise it brings to our ongoing—and future—work, including such pressing issues as vaccines and how patients and the broader public understand and interpret scientific information.”

In the strong tradition of the nonpartisan Aspen Institute, renowned for its convening power, SSP will bring together experts with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and points of view with the overall goal to promote the critical role of science in advancing societal benefits. SSP will communicate the results and recommendations of these studies to the public, scientific communities, policymakers, opinion makers, thought leaders, and the media. It will evaluate the public impact of its work through tracking polls.

“There are many opportunities for SSP to collaborate with other Aspen Institute programs and contribute to our overall mission to help build a free, just, and equitable society,” said Daniel R. Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “Science permeates all aspects of the world today and SSP will allow us to explore carefully and thoughtfully how to maximize the benefits of science for everyone.”

SSP is directed by Dr. Aaron F. Mertz, a biophysicist and Rhodes Scholar who previously worked at The Rockefeller University. He has extensive interdisciplinary scientific research experience and has performed significant outreach for underrepresented groups in science. “Lack of diversity in the STEM workforce and poor mastery of essential STEM skills threaten science’s ability to be a guiding force in our world,” Mertz said. “I am especially excited to work with members of the scientific community—researchers and educators—to help them become better communicators and collaborators, with each other across fields and also with the public and policymakers.”

Support for the Science & Society Program comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Johnson & Johnson. “We’re focused on combining heart, science and ingenuity to profoundly change the trajectory of health for humanity. Demystifying and championing the tremendous value of science – and diversity in science – to society are of paramount importance not just for our company, but also for creating a better world,” said Seema Kumar, Vice President of Innovation, Global Health and Policy Communication at Johnson & Johnson. “Johnson & Johnson is thrilled to partner with the Aspen Institute and PBS NewsHour to engage the hearts and minds of people on science and innovation and to showcase the importance of diversity and inclusion in driving innovation forward.”

More information about the program is available at

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC.; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit


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