The Scientific Integrity Act and the Importance of Storytelling in Science Communication

, Research Director, Center for Science and Democracy | August 16, 2019, 4:22 pm EDT
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My job regularly requires explaining complex science and policy topics to the media, public, and decisionmakers. So I took over the Union of Concerned Scientists’ twitter account (#GretchenTakeover) to share my top tips for talking about science in decisionmaking, examples of effective science communication, and suggestions for how to advocate for the Scientific Integrity Act.  Here are the key takeaways.

Scientific Integrity matters to my daily life and yours

I started the Twitter takeover by sharing ways that scientific integrity has affected my life – and affects all of us every day. Here were the main points:

  • We need to protect the government employees who are charged with using science to protect us–from weather forecasts, to infectious disease monitoring, to food safety inspections. I did this snarky #ThankAGovScientist post one time.
  • My 11th grade chemistry teacher helped me see the value of scientific integrity. “Where would science be if we changed data?” she asked me. I wrote more about that in a Teen Vogue piece here.
  • Remember, behind the headlines of terrible news on science policy, there is an army of federal scientists trying to just do their jobs. The experiences of former government scientists like Joel Clement and Maria Caffrey give a window to that.
  • I constantly remind myself that science only benefits our health and safety if we protect its role in policy decisions. We can’t be silent while science is used for harm and inequities are perpetuated. That’s why we need to support the Scientific Integrity Act.

Misuse of science harms the public

But unfortunately, science isn’t always used in the public interest. Political and financial forces often misuse or ignore scientific evidence to the public’s detriment. Here are some of the sources showing just how big of a problem this is across agencies, across issue areas, and over time:

  • Compared to past administrations, we are seeing more and more sidelining of the role of science in decisionmaking. (Academic citation here).
  • In fact, we’ve tracked more than 100 attacks on science in our tracker here.
  • Political leaders have taken a wrecking ball to federal science, killing science advice, burying critical reports, interfering in research and blocking scientists from talking to journalists—a path of destruction.
  • These attacks on science will harm public health and the environment, especially for communities already burdened with more pollution, safety risks, and other stressors. This move increasing hazardous air pollution is one example.
  • The Trump administration ignored EPA scientists in failing to ban the harmful pesticide chlorpyrifos. Sadly this is but one of dozens of examples of political leaders’ misuse of science that threatens public health and safety.
  • The Department of the Interior has seen new levels of undue political interference. Scientific reports squashed, political appointees reviewing grants, and neglect of science showing health and environmental concerns.
  • Government scientists cited political influence as a barrier to science-based decisionmaking on our 2018 survey. This was true even under past administrations. Clearly, scientific integrity must be strengthened.

The Scientific Integrity Act is a solution, but it needs your support

To protect the role of science in federal decisionmaking we must strengthen scientific integrity, and the Scientific Integrity Act would do just that. To advance in Congress, the Scientific Integrity Act must be prioritized by members of Congress. They are looking to you (their constituents) to tell them what to focus on.

  • The Scientific Integrity Act helps protect government science and the scientists charged with protecting us. Recent attacks on government science show that we need this now more than ever. But we need Congress to prioritize it.
  • Led by Senator Brian Schatz and Representative Paul Tonko, the bill would help ensure government science is working to protect public health and safety, for years to come. We need all members of Congress on board.
  • The bill gives government scientists the right to share their research publicly, ensures that government communication of science is accurate, and protects science in policy decisions from political interference.
  • As my colleague Michael Halpern testified to Congress, the bill is good for science and good for policy. “This bill promotes good government. It enhances accountability. It prevents corruption.”
  • These benefits aren’t just speculative. My colleague Jacob Carter wrote here about many attacks on public health and safety that might have been prevented under the bill.
  • To get the bill to move in Congress, we need people like you telling your Congressional representatives you want science protected. Call. Write. Tweet. It all helps!
  • Scientists and science supporters have already made a huge difference: Thanks to thousands of calls, emails, tweets and postcards, plus efforts on the Hill, there are now 199 co-sponsors for the #ScientificIntegrityAct—a rare feat for any bill!
  • But we need all members in Congress on board, and now is the perfect time to step it up: Your representative is home during the month of August –and you need to let them know science matters to people in your district.

Tell your Members of Congress to advance the Scientific Integrity Act

Here’s how you can help ensure your members of Congress do what they can do strengthen federal scientific integrity: Use social media to get their attention!

  • If they support the Scientific Integrity Act, tell them to help it advance out of committee and onto the House floor. If they don’t support yet, encourage them to. Explain why it matters to you, your life, and your district.
  • How to craft a good message:
    • Take things from the top. Use short sentences. Meet people where they are. Don’t assume people already understand scientific topics. Better to repeat concepts than to lose people off the bat.
    • Make it personal. As a scientist, I’m tempted to lead with science and facts but when talking to decisionmakers, a personal anecdote can be more impactful and memorable.
    • Engage your decisionmakers directly and respectfully. Don’t forget to tag their social media handle. They or their staff scan Twitter regularly to see what people are saying about them (“@ them”).
    • Make it specific. This is a complex, far-reaching bill, and you don’t need to cover every implication in your message. Find one that resonates for you. Use this post to brainstorm what will most resonate.
  • Here are some more tips for using social media for science advocacy. We need you to speak up now more than ever.
  • Hear from UCS communications experts about using social media effectively for advocacy on this webinar.
  • More broadly, check out the advocacy resources that the UCS Science Network has on science communication, science advocacy and science policy on a range of issues.
  • If you want decisionmakers to pay attention, give them a person, an image, a story to remember. They can find facts elsewhere, but they want to know how policy affects YOU and what you care about.
  • Last summer, I gave a public comment on a rule that will restrict EPA’s use of science to make public health decisions—with my newborn in tow! These attacks on government science are about so much more than science.
  • Scientific integrity is about ensuring the future is better than the present, for our kids and for other people’s children. My colleague Jacob Carter talked about scientific integrity’s impact on his Arkansas community.
  • Follow your policymakers’ accounts on social media to see what they talk about, and make your message relevant to what most interests them. And take advantage of moments like hearings or breaking news when they might be more focused on science topic.

Bottom line: Science serves the public good but only if we protect its role and insist that it is used effectively in public decisions. Our public health and safety depends on it.

Posted in: Science and Democracy, Science Communication, Scientific Integrity Tags: , , ,

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  • Michael Anderson

    I just noted in the sidebar that my post has been “detected as spam.” Hopefully it’s understood that would only proving my point regarding censorship of opposing viewpoints, hardly a scientific approach.

  • butch koch

    So we need to tell “lawmakers [ legislation is actually done by “think tanks” and nefarious anti-people pro-corporate groups like ALEC] that we NEED a scientific integrity act. Hey sounds good to me, the more litigation the longer the can gets kicked down the road, er a over the cliff. The insanity of our world truly has no boundaries. Truth has been stolen by pensions and paychecks, as well as laws “written” to crush “whistleblowers”. The proletariat will decide!!!! And trust me, you will not like the results, unless you are that 1% up the food chain.

    • Michael Anderson

      …like Albert Gore, David Suzuki, Harrison Ford, Leo DiCaprio, etc etc ad nauseam, you mean?