How to Advocate for Science

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg

The U.S. Capitol is home to the Senate chamber (left) and the House of Representatives (right). When the flag is flying, that means that Congress is in session.

 

From the careful planning of experiments to the more mundane mixing of coffee, milk, and sugar – or milk, then coffee, no sugar – science is part of our daily lives as graduate students. In contrast, science is far from the daily thoughts of the majority of American adults. Yet, all of us come across questions of scientific interest such as, “How to manage the opioid epidemic?” or “What are the available treatments for sickle cell?” Because the scientific method provides evidence to answer these questions, scientists must participate in the policy-making process by communicating with members of Congress. Engaging with politicians and policymakers can be intimidating if you do not know where to start. Below are four ways to start your path as an advocate for science:

 

  1.       Request a meeting.

Meeting with legislators is the most effective way to advocate for science. If you are unaware of who represents you in D.C., search for your legislator on the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate websites using your zip code. Visit the legislator’s website to request a meeting using the contact form. Otherwise, write down the email, address, and phone number of local and D.C. offices. In your email, explicitly state the purpose of your meeting and the topic or issue you wish to discuss. If you are unsure how to format the letter, click here and here for sample letters.

After the meeting is scheduled, it is time to do your research! Determine if your legislator has appointments in committees relevant to your discussion. Identify the legislator’s position on the issue by browsing the legislator’s voting record on their website or by calling the office and asking a staff member. A useful resource is GovTrack.us where you can track what bill your legislator has sponsored and what legislation are currently under scrutiny. Gather relevant information you would like to add to your discussion including reports and figures.

Dress professionally for the meeting and arrive to the building 15 to 20 minutes before the scheduled time to avoid long lines at the entrance. Limit your conversation to one or two points as meetings last about 20-25 minutes. Remember to maintain a calm and conversational tone throughout. Most importantly, make the discussion personal by sharing your story on how the issue affects you and your district. Before leaving the office, thank the legislator or staff for their time and willingness to meet. After your visit, write a thank you email.

 

  1.       Write to Congress.

After your visit, send a thank you email summarizing the topic discussed. Instead of writing a long email, attach a text document with a bullet list that includes your position on the topic and what you wish the legislator to do. Staff members will likely download, archive, and refer back to the bullet list when writing letters and reports for the legislator. In addition, attach supplementary information that strengthens your position on the topic such as reports and figures. Find a sample letter here. If you did not meet with a legislator, write a short email explaining your concern on a topic and how it affects you and your district. Provide possible solutions to the problem and do not be afraid to highlight what you wish the legislator to do. Remember to include your address, phone number, and email.

 

  1.       Call, every day.

At the end of the day, staff members sort calls to local and D.C. offices by zip code and topic. The top three topics make it to a report that reaches senior staff and the legislator. Therefore, calling offices is an important and easy way to voice your position on current issues. Similar to a face-to-face meeting, limit your conversation to one or two points that you would like to make. Make the call personal by sharing specific examples of how the issue affects you and your district. Avoid ambiguity by clearly stating what you wish the legislator to do. Remember to call your district representative, two senators, and both local and D.C. offices for six calls total.

 

  1.       Get involved.

Learn more about careers in science policy and how to engage effectively with congress by getting involved in the Science Policy Advocacy Group (SPAG) at UNC. SPAG is a student-led organization that enables students, postdocs, and faculty to learn about and advocate for science policy. Use your newly-minted skills at our yearly visits to Capitol Hill and state capitol to emphasize how investment in scientific research benefits North Carolina’s economy. In addition, we visit public schools in rural North Carolina to raise awareness about the federal agencies that support research.

 

As graduate students, we must engage in the policy-making process to cement partnerships between politicians and the scientific community, and to reinforce the connection between policy and scientific knowledge.

 

Peer Edited by Lindsay Walton

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Why Aren’t Politicians Talking About Science, and Should We Care?

http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrew-rosenberg/through-the-looking-glass-climate-change-denial-conflict-of-interest-and-connecting-science-to-policy-297

Politicians’ and scientists’ information do not always match up. Photo credit: © Jesse Springer/Union of Concerned Scientists

With two months to go before election day, we’ve already seen numerous candidates in numerous debates.  It seems like politicians will debate everything…except science. Science is all around us, and has wide reaching economic, health, and social implications.  Despite this, science is conspicuously absent in the current political discourse.  With science affecting so many aspects of our lives, it is imperative that politicians discuss how science will shape their decisions and policies.

Some would argue that politicians should not talk about science because they are not scientists.  They readily discuss economic issues, but are not economists, so what makes science different?  Many organizations are calling on our presidential candidates to have a debate about scientific issues where candidates could discuss how their views on issues related to science will affect their policy.  For instance, will they implement laws affecting companies contributing to global warming, or will they create regulations on genetically modified foods?  One such organization, ScienceDebate.org, is a nonpartisan organization promoting the importance of science in the national dialog.  They are currently crowdsourcing questions for political candidates to answer during a live debate about science issues.  Their effort, backed by Nobel laureates, scientific leaders, presidents, and celebrities, encourages everyone to get involved in starting this dialog, and challenges politicians to be clear on their stances regarding science related issues.  In 2008 and 2012, ScienceDebate.org posed 14 questions relating to science issues written in by citizens to the canditates (Obama and McCain then Obama and Romney) and received answers, which they then posted in side-by-side comparisons.  It revealed the candidate’s views on specific scientific issues such as stem cell research, genetics research, and scientific integrity, which may have otherwise never come up during a political debate.  (If you want to get involved, sign the petition calling for a 2016 science debate of the presidential candidates, or submit a question about science issues important to you.)

Although politicians are being encouraged to talk about their views on science, how much of what they say can we believe?  Organizations like PolitiFact are doing their part by fact checking politicians’ statements to ensure that the public is receiving accurate information.

How true are the statements made by politicians? PolitiFact checks the accuracy of statements made, and ranks them from True to Pants on Fire. Data from politifact.com

How true are the statements made by politicians? PolitiFact checks the accuracy of statements made, and ranks them from True to Pants on Fire. Data from politifact.com

So how are they doing?  After PolitiFact checks the accuracy of statements made, they categorize them into one of 6 grades ranging from True to Pants on Fire.  PolitiFact releases what they call “report cards” showing of all the statements they have checked for accuracy, and how those statements are graded. Hillary Clinton has most statements falling into the Mostly True category (just one step below True), while Donald Trump has the most statements falling into the False category.  

So with pressure to make accurate — well, mostly accurate — statements, and growing pressure to discuss science related topics, what will we be seeing from the candidates?  Hopefully, we’ll hear what the presidential candidates have to say about everything from genetically modified food, to space programs, to vaccines.  However, there is just one issue that the candidates have been asked to discuss so far; climate change.  While Hillary Clinton has clear plans for the imminent threat of climate change, Donald Trump denies climate change is happening until someone can “prove it to him”.  So despite overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real and a serious issue, politicians’ views are wide ranging, from serious threat to pseudo-scientific theory.  These views will shape how they make choices about policy.  Science matters, it is real, let’s talk about it.


Peer edited by Tamara Vital

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