Graduate Students Organize to Promote Science-Informed Leadership in the New Executive Administration

December 14, 2016 | 10:53 am
Katy Dynarski
hD Candidate in the Soil and Biogeochemistry Graduate Group at University of California, Davis

What do the Curiosity Mars rover, the personal computer, and the antibiotic streptomycin have in common? They’re all inventions and discoveries made in America. Science and engineering research have made America into the nation that it is today. Our country is home to some of the world’s leading research universities, medical research and treatment facilities, technology innovation companies, an extensive national park system, and a cutting-edge space research program. Such institutions, made possible by a rich history of scientific inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge through careful research, have positioned the U.S. as a global leader.

Science: turning challenges into opportunities

As we face new political, environmental, and public health challenges in the contemporary era, it is essential that all people, especially our policy leaders, recognize the pivotal role that science has played in our nation’s past and make policy decisions that enable science to contribute to our future. Scientific reasoning and research provides us with the knowledge and tools to understand the relationship between human activities and our surrounding environment, and develop solutions and technologies to adapt to a changing world. In order to continue to innovate in the face of global challenges such as food security, climate change, and public health in a changing environment, it is imperative that the leaders in the U.S. federal government value the scientific process as a tool that will move our country into the future, defer to the body of scientific evidence when making policy and regulatory decisions, and work to protect scientific integrity at all levels.

Opportunities for science in the changing administration

As rumors about cabinet and other executive position picks continue to circulate, many have expressed concern about the role of science in the new presidential administration. It is our sincere hope that the changing presidential administration brings an opportunity to forge new partnerships between the scientific community and the executive branch. Cabinet leaders, such as the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the EPA Administrator, as well as certain executive-branch officials have to be approved by the Senate. Engaging with senators and fostering a nationwide conversation about the value of science in leadership and public policy presents a real opportunity to change the way that science intersects with the federal government.
That’s where we, the Science Informed Leadership team, come in. Science Informed Leadership is an effort is led by a team of UC Davis graduate students. We are working to promote the appointment of executive branch leaders who demonstrate a track record of evidence-based decision-making that is rooted in scientific evidence and consensus, especially with regard to policy and regulatory issues that directly affect science, energy, the environment, education, and public health. We want to see federal leaders who appreciate science and the power of curiosity-driven research and make that appreciation an explicit part of their decision-making process. Dr. John Holdren, the current Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is a great example of a scientifically-informed leader who has promoted a healthy scientific environment in the federal government. During his tenure, Dr. Holdren directed White House agencies to use peer-reviewed, scientific evidence whenever possible when making policy decisions, and to develop policies to ensure a culture of scientific integrity and keep scientific research free from the influence of politics. That sort of regard for scientific evidence and explicit protection of the scientific process is something we’d like to see in future executive branch leaders.

Our approach

Our approach is simple: create and mobilize a network of science-minded citizens, and provide resources that enable them to call and write their senators to encourage the approval of executive candidates who value science and use current scientific evidence to make policy and regulatory decisions. We’ve established a nationwide network of volunteers with coordinators for each state who are working to organize phone banks and letter-writing campaigns. We will also provide state-specific resources like phone call and letter scripts so that constituents can contact their senators and express support of science in the most effective way possible.
Our main goal is to ensure that appointed federal leaders value science and use scientific evidence to make policy and regulatory decisions. Beyond that, we hope that our work helps support a national conversation about the value of science, provides a pathway for all citizens to get involved with the promotion of science, and help cement the place of science in our political system.

Join the effort for science-informed leadership!

sciinformed-logoIf you’re interested in getting involved, you can check out our website at, email [email protected]. Representatives of university graduate student associations can email [email protected] to endorse our university consensus statement about the importance of science in the federal government.

Katy Dynarski is a PhD Candidate in the Soil and Biogeochemistry Graduate Group at University of California, Davis. Katy is one of the founders of the Science Informed Leadership effort. Science Informed Leadership is a graduate student-led effort to promote the appointment of executive branch leaders with a demonstrated track record of evidence-based governance that is rooted in scientific evidence and consensus. You can stay in touch with them on Twitter
Twitter: @SciInformedLead

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