A Modest Proposal
I had the pleasure of meeting Denia Djokic on Tuesday evening, and during the conversation we came up with a modest proposal: put 10% of the national budget for scientific research in a special fund, and have high school students vote on how to allocate it. It would give scientists a powerful reason to communicate more clearly about their research, give young people a way to direct research toward things that are going to affect them, and would probably be no worse than the existing system.
So, what's wrong with this idea? "Science that's boring but essential won't get funded" is one counter, but (a) if it's essential, you should be able to explain that to interested laypeople and (b) if scientific peers believe it's essential, they can allocate money for it out of the other 90% of funding. "Many students wouldn't care enough to vote" is another, but is outcome-neutral, while "students' votes would be influenced by their parents" isn't really a downside as long as someone cares. And yes, some adults would push to get funding for the wrong reasons ("Gosh, if they enlarged the marine research station, more people would come to my coffee shop"), but that happens right now, and I don't believe this would make it any worse.