What do we talk about when we talk about science? Is it the stuff of dreams, the adventurous probing beyond frontiers to satisfy our innate curiosity? The best hope for answers to what afflicts us, from the scourge of cancer to a fix for climate change? Or do we see science as utilitarian, just another player in our obsession with making our economy more competitive?

Those questions are examined in the following pages, through writing and art. We trace the postwar rise of scientific activism that brought us to the current uneasy relationship between science and politics. We flip the science community’s concern about scientific illiteracy among the general public to ask how researchers can better communicate their work outside the lab. And we ask whether it’s possible to create a political and economic environment that nurtures greater ambitions for science and technology than simply creating another hot start-up.

Photo: Shutterstock by ESB Professional