Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Science Advisors in the News

Instead of doing an end-of-year science news wrap up (which you can find here and here and here and many other places), I want to take this opportunity to highlight one important story from 2008 - science advisors.

President-elect Obama has already announced his choices for a cabinet level science advisory position in addition to some integral agency heads. After a lack of solid science advising at the presidential level, these announcements are thrilling to the scientific community. But presidents aren't the only officials who need science advisors.

Members of Congress write legislation and appropriate the funding to our scientific agencies. State officials pass laws, zone industrial regions, and plan energy usage for their states. Local officials write school curricula and decide the level of city taxes.

So while having national advisors is brilliant, all policymakers need to have some amount of advice on science policy that doesn't come from their political party establishment or their memory of secondary school science classes.

I'm in no way demeaning the scientific understanding or knowledge of policymakers. However, if politicians - who by virtue of their position probably understand politics - need political advisors, shouldn't they therefore avail themselves of science advisors as well?

Of course, you say.

However, there is a shortage of advisors out there. Many local and state officials don't meet their constituents working in research, because the researchers don't make the time to introduce themselves. Everyone has busy jobs, but if science policy is going to be good, it must be informed. It can't be informed unless educated professionals are willing to step forward and be a voice for their own research and their local scientific community. Thus, for good science policy to be put in effect, scientifically trained and/or educated professionals need to be willing to be of service to their local and state officials and serve as science advisors.

It doesn't mean quitting your job. Or working for a politician. It means being there to answer questions about something you are already an expert on or connecting your elected official to someone else or a resource that will hold the answer to their question. It could take less than an hour a month. It could be the "job" for you.

Just a little food for thought.

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