Understandings of Science Advocacy can Strengthen it

August 19, 2020 | 9:57 am
Chris Montgomery/Unsplash
Fernando Tormos-Aponte
Former Contributor

Back in January, I reached out to scholars and civic leaders with an interest in science-related advocacy. I asked each of them to share their insights about organizing and social movement building so we could put them in the service of strengthening and diversifying science advocacy. We planned to meet in March, and then COVID-19 happened.

Science, advocacy, and the confluence of crises

While we had been working to form a working group for months, the pandemic made this work even more relevant. Many of us realized: winning the fight against this devastating virus would require something that the US had not been doing very well in the recent past—supporting science and its use for the public good. Scientists, uniquely equipped with the tools to stop the spread of this virus, would have to devise ways to defeat the virus while mobilizing to defending against attacks on science. Science activism would have to flourish in the hardest of times.

Science advocates and activists are not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic raised our awareness about the importance of evidence-based policymaking, scientific innovation, and technological advancement. For a moment, scientists elicited the unparalleled attention of US households who sought insights on how to avoid getting infected, how to get tested, and how to seek treatment. Then, the US was forced to reckon with its racist past and present. Together, the COVID-19 pandemic, its disproportionate impact on people of color, and the Black Lives Matter uprising made it clear: science advocacy must both diversify and grow stronger. Further, science must be an explicitly anti-racist endeavor.

The UCS Science Advocacy Working Group seeks to understand the conditions under which science-related advocacy becomes more diversified and politically impactful. We seek to join efforts to promote scientist civic engagement beyond the confines of our now-empty academic institutions. Our words can make a difference, but as the ongoing uprising against police violence reminds us, words are not enough.

Our paths forward

For science to work for the public good, and particularly marginalized sectors of the public, we must seek to bridge theory and practice. The UCS Science Advocacy Working Group is drawing insights on strengthening science advocacy from various fields of study, experiences of organizers and science advocates themselves, and communities engaged in citizen science to identify the pathways by which we enable evidence-based policymaking and science in the service of marginalized communities.

We are developing an organizing strategy brief that draws recommendations for activists from existing literature on movement building, persistence, and political influence as well as from the experiences of organizers, communities, and scientists. This brief also reviews the challenges that scientists may face in advocacy and movement building and opportunities that they can seize to strengthen and diversify science advocacy.

The group is also engaged in ongoing research aimed at understanding how scientists can inform policy making and increase their policy influence. This research includes surveys, interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic work. This month, we are fielding a pre-election survey of members of the UCS Science Network that will help us gain a better understanding of the challenges that they face as they engage in science advocacy, their opinions and perspectives, and the many ways in which they become civically engaged and politically active. If you are a member of the Science Network, keep an eye on your inbox for a link to participate in this survey.

Our working group will work with organizations within the scientific community to expand these research efforts, include more scholars and communities in every step of this work, and to share findings from new and existing research.

The working group is also working to support scientists and organizations during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter uprising through a series of media pieces, including guest posts on the UCS blog. These posts draw from a variety of perspectives and use a social science lens to spotlight and analyze existing science advocacy efforts, discuss equity issues, and share information about resources that scientists can use for their advocacy work.

Below you will find some of our recent writing on these topics:

We look forward to broadening these efforts and deepening our relationships with those who stand to gain from the enactment of a science praxis that seeks to elevate the voices and improve the lives of intersectionally-marginalized groups.