How To Be An Effective Science Advocate

By Rebecca Cerio

Only 4 of 435 Congress seats and NO Senate seats are held by those with a science Ph.D.  Think about it:  all the scientifically relevant issues facing our nation are being overwhelmingly made by people who are not trained scientists.  How does this affect the policies made? What might slip through the cracks due to a lack of information or understanding?  How can we, as scientists, as citizens, help?

Doing the right thing, like science itself, is not always easy or simple.  However, there are many ways of being a science advocate, and some of them ARE easy and relatively simple. Five minutes a week, a day, or even a month is all it takes to get involved in science advocacy.  Here are some great ways to make your voice heard.

  1. Speak up online: comment on scientifically relevant blog posts or articles:  if you see bad science in the media, point it out!  If you think that more information is needed for people to fully understand the issue, point the way to that information so other readers can learn more.
  2. Be informed:  know what scientific issues are being debated this session on Capitol Hill.  Learn about the economic impact of science funding in your area.  Know your elected officials’ views on scientific issues.  The more you know, the more prepared you are to make a change.
  3. Write your Congressperson:  ask them to support increased and sustained science funding, ask them to support the scientifically valid side of a particular issue, or thank them for their support of science in the past.  Even if they are already pro-science, ask them to go further and be a true champion of science funding, as Senators Ted Kennedy, Arlen Specter, and Mark Hatfield were.  Make it clear that their constituents see science as important and worth fighting for.  This has the most impact when done en masse, so organizing a letter writing campaign may be most effective.
  4. Be a science ambassador:  encourage the public to realize that science research benefits them every single day.  Explain a scientific concept to an interested family member.  Mentor a teen who wants to be a scientist, or help a child to do a science fair project.  Keep in touch with your alma maters and keep them up to date on science-relevant opportunities for high schoolers or recently-graduated undergrads (such as the IRTA/CRTA post-baccalaureate program at the NIH).  Give a lecture on your topic of interest to a high school or undergraduate class, or get involved in a Science Cafe.  You don’t need to be a teacher to educate.
  5. Meet your Congressperson:  a one-on-one talk with your congressional representative or their staff can be extremely effective.  Give a succinct summary of why funding science brings economic and health benefits to their constituents.  Here’s a great primer on how to have an effective meeting with your representative, including tips on how to make an appointment and how best to state your case.

As the new Congressional session rolls around, now is an excellent time to make science advocacy part of your new year!

What do you think?  How do YOU advocate for science in your daily life?  Let us know in the comments!

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