January 18, 2019

Promoting Science-based Policy 

Posted by bwebster

Today’s post is part of a series written by student bloggers from the AGU Fall Meeting 2018.

By: Emilie Sinkler, a PhD candidate in Galciology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

What can scientists (and non-scientists) do to preserve science funding and promote science-based policy?

The 2018 AGU Fall Meeting was the perfect place to learn about and get involved in science policy. The location in the nation’s capital gave scientists unique access to meetings with their legislators and federal agencies. In addition, many sessions featured information on science policy, hosted by those intimately familiar with how our federal government functions.

Credit: Emilie Sinkler
Katherine White, Geological Society of America

What are the best ways to promote science? First, it’s important to educate yourself on the current state of science funding and the use of science in policymaking. The session, The Future of Science Policy: Funding, Freedom of Scientific Expression, and Federal Decision-Making I began with a crash course in recent changes in Congress due to the midterm elections, as well as an overview of the future of science funding. One major issue that scientists need to be aware of is the return to sequestration budget caps next year, unless Congress can pass a bipartisan budget bill to exceed them again. Without this bill, non-defense spending, which includes science, would see a 6% cut in funding. As a graduate student on a National Science Foundation funded project, this is troubling.

Even now science funding (adjusted for inflation) for most government agencies is not as high as it was ten years ago so it is imperative that scientists (and non-scientists) advocate for increased science funding. But this is about more than our stipends: science funding helps to build an educated American workforce, and smart, informed citizens;  it drives economic opportunity; provides the basis for sound domestic policy; and builds international respect for our valuable contributions to international agreements. Our voices in advocating for well-designed science funding are critically important.

AGU has many resources for learning about science policy, including webinars, a site tracking the current state of science funding, and resources for communicating the national impact of the geosciences. In addition, other organizations maintain resources on science policy, like the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund’s Silencing Science Tracker. This resource tracks federal and state government attempts to restrict or prohibit scientific research, education, publication, or the use of scientific information. Started after the November 2016 election, the Silencing Science Tracker can serve as a resource for scientists who are interested in speaking out against government censorship, self-censorship, budget cuts, personnel changes, research hindrance, and bias and misrepresentation.

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to take action. One way to do this is by calling, writing, or meeting with your representatives. This may seem intimidating at first, but many organizations, including AGU, provide toolkits for crafting a strong message.

If you’d like to rally support for legislation, it can be good to create public knowledge of a certain issue. Perhaps a local museum or other cultural institution has similar priorities and would be willing to join you in making a request of your legislators, or could help you spread your message to their visitors.

If you’re willing to take the plunge, consider running for office. 314Action has resources to support scientists at all levels of government, down to the local school board. Since January 2017, 314Action has trained nearly 1,500 scientists to run for office.

Supporting science has never been more important and it’s the perfect time to let your voice be heard.