On May 13, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Vice President of Programs–Doron Weber–was interviewed by Alexander Heffner about the Foundation’s funding priorities. Heffner is the host of the PBS series The Open Mind, which is the longest-running public broadcast in the history of American television. Begun by Heffner’s grandfather Richard in 1956, Alexander became host in 2014 and is the youngest host on public or commercial television.
In his dialogue with Heffner, Weber talks about the program he directs–Public Understanding of Science and Technology–which supports film, theater, television, books, and digital media which integrate science. “Anyone who wants to be fully alive today can’t ignore science, which is the most powerful source of systematic knowledge I think we’ve ever had,” says Weber.
“[Scientific research has] allowed us to shape our planet, it has allowed us to send a human to the moon, and send a robot to Mars, and send a probe into interstellar space. It has allowed us to understand the gene, the neuron, the atom, and develop fields in nanotechnology and biotechnology that have given us tremendous goods and advantages. But, at the same time, there are many questions that science can’t answer–how do you lead a good life, how do you bring up happy, well-adjusted children? Or, how do you lose weight, how do you avoid a cold, how do you prevent wrinkles, how do you stem the rise in autism and asthma, how do you avoid Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s? Can you live past one hundred? What is human consciousness? What is creativity? There are a lot of questions science can’t answer. You need to be able to have a full understanding of science, but you also need history, philosophy, literature, arts, languages, ethics, and religion. The humanities, by definition, are that which make us human.” Weber’s program at the Foundation supports arts that integrate science into storytelling.
The Open Mind is broadcast on the PBS station WNET and on CUNY TV, in addition to being available online.