The American Physical Society held its annual April Meeting on a virtual platform, its first-ever fully virtual meeting. Research!America president and CEO Mary Woolley joined as a panelist in a session entitled, “Intersection of Science and Politics.” The session was chaired by Dr. E. William Colglazier, Editor-in-Chief of Science & Diplomacy and Senior Scholar in the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr. Juliette Mammei, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Manitoba moderated the session. Joining Mary on the panel were Jim Jenson, former director of congressional affairs for the National Academy of Sciences and David Goldston, director of the MIT Washington office and former Director of Government Affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“There is a well of support to draw from,” in seeking support for federal research funding, Goldston explained. The reason for that support, he continued, goes back to the beginnings of the major US presence in science. “The reason the government supports science is because it produces public benefits.” Advocates must connect what they are doing to the public concerns that members of Congress are elected to worry about. He added, “when you go and visit your member of Congress, you’re going into their world, not trying to drag them into your world.”
“There’s an important allegiance to science in Congress,” said Jensen, “because illness and death do not have much of a constituency.” The way Congress learns about science is also due to the activities of organizations such as APS and Research!America, he said. It’s important that Congress “learn what it is you do,” he said, adding advocates have to be careful about how they deliver that message.
Mary Woolley talked about the political context embedded in the public context of science. She cited Research!America Chair Emeritus John Edward Porter and his longtime belief that members of the scientific community need to be engaged in that political context. She also pointed out it was Abraham Lincoln who best understood the importance of keeping a finger on the pulse of public sentiment. She highlighted a variety of Research!America’s public opinion survey findings, and provided inspiration and advice for scientists to become involved in the public context of science.
The panel then discussed specific strategies for advocating for science, including exploring shared values, relating science to concrete examples that people can understand, and connecting to the benefits of science for the public. They also encouraged attendees to take advantage of the opportunity presented by COVID-19 - the possible extra spare time and the fact that science is in the spotlight - to reach out to their members of Congress and get involved.
The panel discussion, and all the sessions from the April meeting, are available online, free of charge, with registration, at april.aps.org.