Dazed and confused is not a phrase typically used to describe scientists, yet many of us are feeling that way in the wake of the dramatic policy changes implemented in the first few months of the new government administration. A seemingly endless flurry of executive orders impact everything from what science is funded, what government scientists can talk about, what areas of science are considered appropriate for presentation on the official White House website, and who can work in our labs.
Yet many scientists I speak with are reluctant to participate in political activities for fear of making science too political. I argue that these new policies have intentionally made science political, and if scientists and supporters of science sit back and do nothing, we will allow the anti-science rhetoric to drown out rigorous, scientifically backed information.
You may be left asking yourself “what can I do”? Quite a lot, in fact. Below are some of the things that you can do today to get involved.
Increase science communication
One of the easiest ways to get involved is to join Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media. These outlets can be a great resource for new scientific articles, information about speakers at conferences, awards that your peers are winning, and a place to share the latest scientific discoveries that you read in the journals with a bit of perspective and context provided by you. You can also share reliable information about how new government policies affect scientists and research.
For the more adventurous, you can start a blog, or help trainees start a blog, speak with journalists about your research, or write opinion articles in local papers, scientific society newsletters, or even scientific journals. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have resources on their pages on how to write effective letters to the editor and op-eds. Lastly, work with your public relations office to promote your own research findings. Be sure to tweet and post that story.
Stand up for and promote science
The March for Science has received a lot of publicity, and you can check if there is a satellite March happening near you. You can also speak at local schools to create energy and excitement around science and scientific discovery, and potentially inspire the next generation of scientists. You can also join an organization that is working to defend science, like UCS, or local activist organizations. The UCS Science Network has an initiative to help be a watchdog against attacks on science. You can also share your story or donate money to organizations that promote science and discovery.
Communicate your views to elected officials
A great way to communicate how proposed or enacted policies affect scientists is to directly call or meet with legislators. Tell them your story. Several scientific societies, including the American Association of Immunologists, also offer training and “Hill days” where they schedule meetings with many different legislators to discuss policies.
Run for office
Although there are several physicians in Congress, there is a definite lack of research scientists. There is currently only one, Bill Foster (D-Illinois), but that may soon change if Michael Eisen, an evolution and computational biologist from University of California, Berkeley, is successful in his bid for the Senate in California. He is not alone. Many scientists are becoming interested in running for office and the 314 Action (first 3 digits of pi) group is helping them get there. 314 Action is raising money to support political campaigns for scientists and provide candidate training. Admittedly, not everyone has the people skills or the inclination to run for such high-profile positions. Keep in mind that the seeds of change are planted at the local level. So even running for school boards, city councils, or other local elected positions will make a difference.
I challenge you to find one way to promote and advocate for science. You may think that you don’t have time to participate, but there is no longer an option not to. We need every single scientist to stand up and get involved. Think big, start small, commit. The very foundation of science is at stake.
Cynthia Leifer is an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University. Her research focuses on how our immune system detects and fights infection, and what goes wrong with the immune system during autoimmune disease. In addition to her research, she participates in science outreach and communication. She has written on vaccines, women in STEM, and science denial, for such outlets as CNN, Huffington Post, and Pacific Standard. @CIndyLeifer Leiferlab.com
Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.
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