Introducing the National Science Policy Network

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Leaders of the scientific community have criticized the myopic actions of this administration to stifle the voice and input of scientific knowledge. For example, President Trump has yet to nominate a scientific advisor. His administration’s budgets have proposed slashing support for scientific research, although Congress has provided increases for many key science agencies such as NIH and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Yet while our community is alarmed by the current state of affairs, we must also recognize a critical long-term need: to encourage and train more scientists to engage in policy, civil engagement, and advocacy. As a community, we may give lip service to the importance of this in public, but we rarely provide any meaningful incentives for scientists to become “civic scientists.” When scientists meaningfully engage the public and policy-makers, we all win. We must find a way to inspire the next generation to step forward and contribute scientific rigor to policy-making and the public debate.

The frequent reluctance of scientific leaders to address internal cultural problems is not new, but now is the time for new approaches. One emerging solution you may not have heard of: local groups of early-career scientists (especially PhD students and post-doctoral researchers) working together to demonstrate the value of science to inform policy that is relevant to their communities. These groups are engaging their peers to raise awareness on topics such as the policy considerations in which science plays a role (nowadays, almost everything) and advocacy for policy matters within their community.

We’ve collected some data on this emerging movement. From a nationwide survey that we sent out earlier this year to early-career science policy groups on university campuses, of the 22 groups surveyed, 45 percent have started just in the past year and a half. Composed primarily of graduate students, 60 percent operate on annual budgets of $1,200 or less. Many of these groups use their limited funds to bring in speakers and host discussion groups, but they are interested in expanding their efforts to tackle problems ranging from tracking local legislation to providing training workshops.

These groups are critical. While established organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy, Research!America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science work to galvanize scientists, they climb an uphill battle against an academic culture that has been struggling to organize on the community level.

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Media Contacts

Terri Schwartzbeck
Director of Communications 

We have health challenges in this country that science will provide answers for if given the chance and we haven't given science that opportunity
Mary Woolley, President and CEO, Research!America