Archive for January 2011
Only 4 of 435 Congress seats and NO Senate seats are held by those with a science Ph.D. Think about it: all the scientifically relevant issues facing our nation are being overwhelmingly made by people who are not trained scientists. How does this affect the policies made? What might slip through the cracks due to a lack of information or understanding? How can we, as scientists, as citizens, help?
Doing the right thing, like science itself, is not always easy or simple. However, there are many ways of being a science advocate, and some of them ARE easy and relatively simple. Five minutes a week, a day, or even a month is all it takes to get involved in science advocacy. Here are some great ways to make your voice heard.
- Speak up online: comment on scientifically relevant blog posts or articles: if you see bad science in the media, point it out! If you think that more information is needed for people to fully understand the issue, point the way to that information so other readers can learn more.
- Be informed: know what scientific issues are being debated this session on Capitol Hill. Learn about the economic impact of science funding in your area. Know your elected officials’ views on scientific issues. The more you know, the more prepared you are to make a change.
- Write your Congressperson: ask them to support increased and sustained science funding, ask them to support the scientifically valid side of a particular issue, or thank them for their support of science in the past. Even if they are already pro-science, ask them to go further and be a true champion of science funding, as Senators Ted Kennedy, Arlen Specter, and Mark Hatfield were. Make it clear that their constituents see science as important and worth fighting for. This has the most impact when done en masse, so organizing a letter writing campaign may be most effective.
- Be a science ambassador: encourage the public to realize that science research benefits them every single day. Explain a scientific concept to an interested family member. Mentor a teen who wants to be a scientist, or help a child to do a science fair project. Keep in touch with your alma maters and keep them up to date on science-relevant opportunities for high schoolers or recently-graduated undergrads (such as the IRTA/CRTA post-baccalaureate program at the NIH). Give a lecture on your topic of interest to a high school or undergraduate class, or get involved in a Science Cafe. You don’t need to be a teacher to educate.
- Meet your Congressperson: a one-on-one talk with your congressional representative or their staff can be extremely effective. Give a succinct summary of why funding science brings economic and health benefits to their constituents. Here’s a great primer on how to have an effective meeting with your representative, including tips on how to make an appointment and how best to state your case.
As the new Congressional session rolls around, now is an excellent time to make science advocacy part of your new year!
What do you think? How do YOU advocate for science in your daily life? Let us know in the comments!
By Rebecca Cerio
Science is, at its core, a search for knowledge. We want to know, and thus we study, experiment, discover, and publish. However, does our responsibility as citizens stop there? Should scientists be doing more to assure that science is disseminated, understood, and used appropriately in decision-making?
Everyone agrees that science literacy is important. A science-savvy society can better compete in the world economy, make better health care decisions, and more meaningfully debate about public policy issues. However, the fascinating and very complete NSF Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010 report confirms that “many Americans do not give correct answers to questions about basic factual knowledge of science or the scientific inquiry process.” The US population’s science marks definitely need improvement.
How can we, as scientists, help? And should we?
Advocacy: The Scientist’s Place in Policy?
Should scientists be involved in public policy? The NSF SEI:2010 suggests that the public’s answer is a resounding “yes!”. Scientific leaders enjoy some of the highest public confidence levels and topped the list of those who should have the most influence on specific science-based policy issues such as global warming. The public has a favorable and high opinion of scientists, and they want to hear our opinions.
Nonetheless, there is some controversy. Nelson and Vucetich wrote a wonderful essay (PDF version) in which they logically break down various published arguments for why scientists should not be advocates. Nelson and Vucetich find all of these arguments logically lacking in various ways. They conclude that such arguments do not give good reasons not to advocate, but instead show us how we should advocate. Scientists should, Nelson and Vucetich argue, advocate in a justified and transparent manner while making full use of their knowledge for the good of society.
In fact, one particular argument for scientist advocacy holds up under ethical scrutiny: since scientists have mastered knowledge that most citizens have not–and since they are citizens first and scientists second– they have a moral responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities. Nelson and Vucetich acknowledge that advocacy can carry some undesirable side effects (ie, time spent, backlash from peers, threats from those with opposing views, etc.) Nevertheless, doing the right thing is hardly ever painless, and we can’t be excused from our moral responsibilities simply because they incur some hardship.
Likewise, our society is not excused from using scientific information to inform policy just because it is complicated. Nelson and Vucetich predict that an increase in scientist advocacy will inevitably result in disagreement between the very scientists doing the advocating. This, in turn, will complicate the policy-making process. However, though this may seem counterproductive, Nelson and Vucetich point out, “…our goal here should not be simplicity but rather the betterment of society.”
And isn’t that what science is about, as well?
What do you think? Should scientists advocate for more science funding, or on particular policy issues? What responsibilities do we have as citizens, and how best should we satisfy them? Let us know in the comments!