Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend Reading

With a long weekend fast approaching, we thought we'd share some fun reads you might enjoy while you're basking in free time this Labor Day. (Yes, we know it's Monday, but we wanted to give you time to check these out of the library before you leave town.)

Ilse's suggestion:

When it comes to science and medicine, the brain has always been a topic of particular interest to me. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe takes the reader inside the life of a neurosurgeon by describing Firlik's career path and experiences working with brain injuries and other medical issues. Filled with anecdotes and written in a fluent and engaging manner, the book offers a view of Firlik's field that will be interesting to scientists and prospective scientists (or neurosurgeons) alike.

Matt's pick:

The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist's Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics by George Lakoff

Politics are tricky. When up against a wall, I often find myself asking "Why don't people get it?!" Lakoff, a linguist and cognitive scientist, explains some of the science behind political beliefs and why its so hard for people to change their minds. Lakoff touts his book as a thesis about "the sc
ience behind how our brain understands politics." I found the chapter on how our brains develop 'frames' to be especially helpful for future science communication.

Heather's choice:

Intuition by Allegra Goodman

We often hear about the plight of the post docs and PhD students just trying to make the next big discovery, and this novel gives us a look at "real" life in a cancer research lab. Now, I've never worked in a lab, but lots of friends of mine have, and this seems like a pretty good view of the politics of discovery, the various dimensions relationships can have in the lab (and out of it) and the personal journey of researchers who are just trying to save lives.

Happy reading everyone!

Friday, August 28, 2009

French Fry Day

Here at New Voices, we all seem to have an affection for the potatoe-y goodness known as french fries. Luckily (or unluckily?), we aren't alone. The average American eats four portions of french fries per week, which is about 16 pounds a year. So today, we're taking a closer look at one of the most ubiquitous foods in the United States.

The Science of Making the Perfect Fry, by Ilse
French fries of choice: Fresh French Fries from the Minnesota State Fair are far and away the best.

The quality of a French fry depends heavily on chemistry and engineering. “In Search of the Perfect Fry” points out that once you have the basic ingredients (potatoes, oil, and a fryer), everything from the temperature of the potatoes and the oil to the length of time that the potatoes are in the oil affects the way the fries turn out. As fries cook, water is released from the potatoes and replaced by oil, causing the fries to cook from the outside in. A process called heat transfer, which is basically the cycle of bubble release from the fries, occurs at this point.

Much more than ingredients and cooking specifications determine how fries taste. Most people add salt for flavor, but scientists have also developed chemical formulas for the oil fries are cooked in that affects the flavor. The use of alternative ingredients such as rice to make fries or fortifying fries have also been considered as ways of making them slightly healthier.

Why We Can't Get Enough, by Matt
French fries of choice: 1st place- Nando's dipped in a combination of Hot & Garlic Peri-Peri sauce. (If you live near D.C., you have to try Nando's!), 2nd place- Five Guys fries dipped in hot sauce, 3rd place- McDonald's

"Addicted to French Fries?! No, I can stop any time. . . . "

Actually, the science suggests you may not be able to stop. The American Heart Disease Association notes that food cravings and addictions may be caused by low serotonin levels in the brain. The “mind-mood-food” connection could explain why you have to have those french fries now.

Other research has shown that eating carbohydrates “increased arousal” and “demonstrated positive effects” on mood (subscription required). French fries are loaded with carbohydrates. A medium french fries from McDonald’s has 48g of carbs—16% of the recommended daily value. That may explain why eating french fries makes you feel so happy.

Greasy Goodness Economics, by Heather
French fries of choice: Anything with crispy outsides and soft centers served with tarragon vinegar, a bit of salt and ketchup.

Americans spend more than $75 billion on fried foods every year. That's a lot, but not even close to the more than $90 billion spent annually on medical expenditures related to being overweight or obese.

Researchers estimate that a net change of 100 calories per day - equivalent to cutting out about 1/2 of a small serving of french fries - could help adults stop gaining weight. Better yet, if we could cut out even one of our four average servings of fries per week, we could save an average of $104 a year on french fries, reduce our calorie intake by about 400 calories a week, and potentially save up to 37% in annual medical costs.

Source: Investment in research saves lives and money Obesity fact sheet

So now we know that...
  • there is a science to making the perfect french fry - either at the fair, a restaurant, or at home.
  • it's not our fault we can't stop eating them.
  • we could save ourselves some serious money and calories if we could stop.
But, there's no argument that the industry does a lot for our economy, so while we at New Voices would never advocate for anything so blatantly unhealthy, we figure nothing's too bad when eaten in moderation. Speaking of which, it looks like lunch time....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chronicles of a Science Policy Intern: The Intern Project

Photo Credit: Yves (in Vietnam)

When I started at Research!America in early July, one of the aspects of the internship that I was most excited about was the intern project, which is essentially a research project on a relevant topic of the intern’s choosing.*

The research process—selecting a topic, conducting preliminary research, revising or narrowing my topic, conducting further research, and drawing conclusions—is something with which I am rather familiar and thoroughly enjoy. After all, as a recent graduate I’ve spent the better part of my life doing it, albeit at varying levels of complexity and depth. So I looked forward to the chance to investigate a new topic and have decided to use this opportunity to tell you about my experience thus far.

The first step in the research process—selecting a research topic—is often the part I find most challenging. There are so many interesting subjects out there that it can be difficult to pick just one.

Fortunately, every once in a while I come across a topic that stands out from the other possibilities. This was one of those times. As a triple major in chemistry, history, and Asian studies, I am someone who has always enjoyed making connections between seemingly dissimilar subjects. When I started hearing about the supposed divide between scientists, the public, and policymakers; something related to science communication and collaboration between scientists and policymakers seemed a natural choice.

Though I won’t bore you with the details, conducting preliminary research was a lot of fun. (Yes, I know I'm a nerd.) I searched indexes and databases, read articles and books, and focused my topic.

Now I am at the point where I am almost ready to conduct my own research. Based on what I read, I decided that the logical thing to do would be to conduct my own survey. And that has proven to be a much greater challenge than I anticipated. Formulating questions appropriately and differentiating between need-to-know and want-to-know questions has taken a lot of time and thought. I’m very grateful for the guidance I’ve received throughout.

My survey will be distributed online soon and I welcome and encourage your participation. I’ve already learned a great deal in the process of research and writing my survey and am eager to see the results.

Check back for my survey when you visit New Voices! I’ll keep you posted on how things turn out.

*If you're interested in past intern projects, check out Flygal's posts on a knowledge-based economy and Emily's work on climate change and health. And look out for Matt's upcoming posts about his project.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We tip our hats to Senator Edward Kennedy

We tip our hats to you, Senator Kennedy

We join our colleagues and friends in recognition of a true champion for health and research, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who passed away today at the age of 77. Senator Kennedy left a long legacy of legislative accomplishments that have undoubtedly improved the health and well being of millions of Americans. In 2008, Senator Kennedy was awarded Research!America’s prestigious Edward C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy in recognition of his many accomplishments.

Some of Senator Kennedy’s most notable legislative accomplishments include:

• The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
• The Americans with Disabilities Act
• The Orphan Drug Act, which encouraged the development of medicines for rare diseases
• Multiple pieces of legislation to strengthen the Food and Drug Administration

Most recently, Senator Kennedy served as the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee.

Senator Kennedy was a fervent supporter of research to improve health. In Senator Kennedy's own words:
“In the 1990’s, Congress recognized the immense potential of NIH research to bring about the cures of tomorrow, and we doubled the NIH budget. In recent years, however, the increases have stopped and there have even been reductions, which makes no sense. . . . We’re at the dawn of a new age in health research that holds great promise for the prevention, treatment, and even cure of major diseases. That’s why I’m fighting hard to increase the NIH budget and ensure that our country’s position as the leader in health research and innovation remains strong.”
We couldn’t agree more.

We tip our hats to you, Senator Kennedy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How To: Make Your Voice Heard at a Congressional Town Hall Meeting

If it’s August (and last time I checked, it is), then there is a probably a congressional town hall meeting happening near you. New Voices posted yesterday with an updated list of congressional members holding town halls. With health care reform in the national spotlight, town hall meetings provide you an opportunity to ask your elected officials important questions about the role of research in health.

But how do you even ask a question at a town hall? And what should you ask?

Here are some tips and resources to help you make your voice heard.
  • It is important to have a brief statement that conveys your personal story. The keyword here is brief, meaning 1-2 sentences. Consider sharing some of your background that supports your question. For example, if you want to ask a question about how health care reform will affect your work as a biochemist, you could say, “I’m a biochemist researching the causes of cancer. I work every day to better understand this disease. . . .” This provides your elected official with some context about what’s prompting you to ask you question.
  • Asking a question also gives you the opportunity to briefly share your views with your elected official. Again, the keyword here is brief, 1-2 sentences. If you think it is important to increase funding for research, don’t be afraid to say so (in 1-2 sentences). For example, "_____ is important to me because _____." After you’ve provided your opinion, ask a direct question.
  • Try to sit near the front of the room to make yourself visible. Be patient and polite when trying to garner the attention of person who controls the microphone. The meeting organizers may request that you write your questions down instead.
  • Bring materials to leave behind in case there isn’t time for your question. With increased interest in congressional town halls, it may not be possible for everyone to ask a question. Bring printed materials with you that summarize your questions and asks your elected officials to respond. Here is one set of printed materials that you can leave behind to ask your elected officials to respond to the Your Congress-Your Health initiative.
So now that you have a better idea of how to make your voice heard, what should you ask? This is really up to you. Here are some examples of questions from leading patient advocacy organizations.
Parkinson's Action Network: "There are currently no treatments to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease. How are you working to help provide better treatments and a cure for people living with Parkinson’s disease?"

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America: "I understand there are a number of substance abuse treatment provisions included in health care reform, and am very pleased about this. But given the fact that drug and alcohol abuse are one of the biggest drivers of health care costs, how is Congress working to ensure that drug and alcohol prevention, and not just treatment are fully addressed in health care reform?"

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: "Will you support the highest possible increase of funds going to NIH . . . ?"
You can also use the Your Congress-Your Health questionnaire as a guideline. Here are some examples of questions from the Your Congress-Your Health questionnaire.
"When it comes to rising health care costs, would you say research to improve health is part of the problem or part of the solution?"
"Considering all aspects of health reform, how much of a priority is it to accelerate our nation's investment in research to improve health?"
Finally, don’t forget that Porter’s Principles provides communication and advocacy tips.

Putting this all together, here are some examples of statements and questions to ask elected officials:
“Hi, my name is Dr. Smith, and I’m from Anytown. I'm a cancer researcher investigating the causes of cancer. I've made some exciting discoveries. Increased funding for research through the NIH is very important to me because allows me and my colleagues to expand our work against cancer. How can health care reform incorporate what my colleagues and I are discovering about preventing and treating cancer? And, how will you support our work in the future? Thank you."

"Hi, my name is Matt, and I’m a student at the U of M. One of my parents was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when I was in high school. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there is a lot of promising research. Increased research into better treatments and cures as a part of health care reform is very important to me. How can health care reform help people living with Parkinson’s disease, and what do you plan to do to bring us closer to a cure? Thanks."
What are some of the statements and questions you’d like to share at upcoming town halls?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Upcoming Congressional Town Hall Meetings

As Congress approaches the end of the August recess, we wanted to update the list of upcoming town hall meetings to include the members we've heard are holding meetings between tomorrow (8.25.09) and Labor Day.*

Rep. Bobby Bright
Rep. Parker Griffith

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Sen. John McCain
Rep. Jeff Flake
Rep. Trent Franks
Rep. Harry Mitchell

Sen. Blanche Lincoln
Sen. Mark Pryor
Rep. John Boozman
Rep. Mike Ross

Rep. Judy Chu
Rep. Susan Davis
Rep. Anna Eshoo
Rep. Sam Farr
Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Dan Lungren
Rep. Kevin McCarthy
Rep. Jerry McNerney
Rep. Jackie Speier

Rep. Betsy Markey
Rep. Jared Polis

Rep. Joe Courtney
Rep. Jim Himes

Sen. Tom Carper

Rep. Allen Boyd
Rep. Kathy Castor
Rep. Ron Klein
Rep. Bill Posey

Rep. John Barrow
Rep. Nathan Deal
Rep. Phil Gingrey
Rep. John Linder

Rep. Danny Davis
(check out Davis' responses to Your Congress-Your Health)
Rep. Phil Hare
Rep. Timothy Johnson
Rep. Janice Schakowsky

Rep. Dan Burton

Sen. Chuck Grassley
Rep. Bruce Braley
Rep. Steve King
Rep. Dave Loebsack

Rep. Lynn Jenkins
Rep. Dennis Moore
Rep. Jerry Moran

Rep. Bill Cassidy
Rep. Steve Scalise

Rep. Donna Edwards

Rep. Stephen Lynch

Rep. Michele Bachmann

Sen. Roger Wicker

Rep. Sam Graves

Rep. Denny Rehberg

Rep. Lee Terry

Sen. Harry Reid

New Jersey
Rep. Rush Holt

New Mexico
Sen. Tom Udall
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan

New York
Rep. Eric Massa
(check out Massa's responses to Your Congress-Your Health)
Rep. Paul Tonko

North Carolina
Rep. Larry Kissell
Rep. Patrick McHenry
Rep. Sue Myrick
Rep. David Price

Sen. Tom Coburn
Rep. Tom Cole
Rep. John Sullivan

Rep. Peter DeFazio

Rhode Island
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
Rep. Jim Langevin

South Carolina
Rep. Bob Inglis

Rep. Phil Roe
Rep. John Tanner

Rep. Joe Barton
Rep. Michael Burgess
Rep. Gene Green
Rep. Randy Neugebauer

Rep. Rob Bishop
Rep. Jason Chaffetz

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Rep. Jim Moran
Rep. Tom Perriello
Rep. Rob Wittman

Rep. Brian Baird
Rep. Jay Inslee
Rep. Adam Smith

Sen. Russ Feingold
Rep. Paul Ryan

Click through on the links to get to a member's homepage and find out the details for their upcoming meetings. Some are even phone-in sessions, so if you can't get out to the meeting you can still participate.

Stay tuned tomorrow for some tips about how to get engaged in a town hall meeting!

*If you have time to get out today, call your members' offices to see if they are one of the 20+ having meetings today!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Research in this Lab is Funded by ARRA

Download/print a copy of this sign for your lab!

You've probably seen signs on roads nationwide advertising that the construction projects are being supported by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars. But why should road construction (usually increasing traffic!) be the only thing Americans associate with the stimulus funds?

In every state across the country, communities are already seeing the benefits of more than $1.3 billion dollars awarded in NIH ARRA funding for over 6018 projects.

Research!America has developed an interactive map that details how the NIH ARRA funding is distributed on both the state and district level.

In addition to research highlights on each state page, there are links to Your Congress–Your Health where visitors are encouraged to send a message to their member of Congress about the issues of research, health, and the economy.

As major recipients of ARRA funding (read: taxpayer dollars) it is important that the scientific community tell the story about the value and economic impact of these research projects.

How is this unprecedented investment impacting your institution and your community? Share your stories in the comments, or email them to hbenson at

And, don't forget to download/print a copy of the sign featured at the top of this post to display in your lab!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Majority of Americans Support Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research continues to fill the news as the science progresses in this exciting field of research. We recently learned that scientists have been able to create teeth using stem cells in mice; and another team activated stem cell genes without using a virus, eliminating some problems with earlier models.

With the public focus shifting away from the controversy of stem cell research and toward the scientific possibilities, New Voices was curious about where Americans stand on the issue of stem cell research. We turned to a recent poll commissioned by Research!America for the Your Congress-Your Health initiative. Here are some of our findings.

Support for federally funded embryonic stem cell research has increased

Summer 2009: 73% of Americans support expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Summer 2005: 57% of Americans supported federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Support for therapeutic cloning (Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer) has also increased

Summer 2009: 74% of Americans support therapeutic cloning (SCNT).

Summer 2005: 59% of Americans support therapeutic cloning (SCNT).

What explains the change in public opinion? Do more people understand stem cell research? Has the end of President George W. Bush’s term in office affected public opinion?*

Since 2005, the majority of the public has supported both embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. Today, the majority of the public that support this research has grown significantly.

With that in mind, the minority--those opposed to expanded federal funding for stem cell research--is shrinking. Yet the shrinking minority has become even more vocal in their opposition to federal funding. We say this play out in the public comment period for the NIH stem cell guidelines.

In July 2009, President Obama ordered federal agencies to enact the new rules governing federally funded stem cells, updated by the NIH and originally mandated by his Executive Order. According to an ABC News/MedPage Today report written at the time:
"Of 49,000 public comments submitted to the NIH on its proposed guidelines, at least 30,000 were from groups and individuals who flat-out oppose federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

These were determined to be non-responsive the question, said Dr. Kington, [the then acting Director of NIH]. 'We did not ask them if we should fund human embryonic stem cell research. We asked in what circumstances should we fund human embryonic stem cell research.'"
This leaves the majority of Americans who do support expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research with one choice--speak up!! Our voices won't be heard unless we use them.

*Recall that when the 2005 poll was administered, President Bush was holding strong on his restrictions for federally funded embryonic stem cell research. Despite President Bush's objections, the public and Congress supported expanding federally funded stem cell research. Congress passed legislation to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research twice, only to be vetoed by President Bush.

This is Part 3 in our series highlighting data from the Your Congress-Your Health poll.
Part 1 - Can you name a living scientist?
Part 2 - Poll Methodology
Part 3 - STEM Education

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Importance of STEM Education

Recently, my co-blogger Heather wrote about the fact that most Americans can’t name a living scientist. Today I’m going to write about something that can help change that statistic: science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

According to Research!America’s 2009 Your Congress-Your Health poll, 76% of Americans think that STEM education is “very important” to U.S. competitiveness and economic prosperity. Another 21% consider STEM education “somewhat important,” and only a very small percentage—3%--think it is “not important.” In fact, there is little question as to whether STEM education is important to our society: it provides numerous benefits in addition to making the U.S. more competitive and is therefore crucial to support, promote, and encourage.

Science, technology, engineering, and math education have several economic benefits for society. Undergraduate and graduate programs in these fields provide highly skilled workers and researchers who can make constructive contributions in their field of employment.

The success of the institutions or industries in which these people are employed generates revenue and additional funding that has a huge regional and national impact. One example: according to the 2007 study In Your Own Backyard, NIH funding for Illinois generated 11,914 new jobs and $1,848,000,000 worth of business activity. (Read more about the economic impact of research here).

Educating students in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math also creates people who are capable of finding solutions to the problems faced by the world today. Locally and globally, people with STEM degrees are helping create treatments and cures for diseases, generating ideas for sources of energy, and finding ways to deal with global warming. Their work improves all of our lives.

Since STEM education is so significant to our society, it is crucial for each of us to support. This is a multi-fold endeavor.

A significant aspect of this is ensuring the availability of STEM opportunities to students of all ages. Interest in these areas should be encouraged at a young age and must be sustained; we need challenging and engaging programs that nurture innovative thinkers. If you have a personal connection to science, you can help with this by working to make internships, educational outreach, or other programs available in your lab, classroom, or company. Or you could write to your Members of Congress in support of STEM education.

Ensuring that society is aware of these opportunities is another must. If you are aware of a great STEM program, tell people who might be interested! I wouldn’t have found out about Research!America or this internship if it hadn't been mentioned by a post-doc that I interviewed for information about careers in science policy and public health.

Finally, it is absolutely necessary to foster enthusiasm for the sciences and research. We need to create a culture of excitement and interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. We need science ambassadors (to borrow Chris and Sheril's term) on all levels and in all fields to demonstrate how cool science is.

Tell your friends. Get involved. And if you have any ideas or know of any STEM opportunities that New Voices might be interested in, please leave a comment!

Photo credit: Chemical Heritage Foundation

This is Part 3 in our series highlighting data from the Your Congress-Your Health poll.
Part 1 - Can you name a living scientist?
Part 2 - Poll Methodology

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Signing Off

“Without research, there is no hope.”

~ The Honorable Paul G. Rogers

Here on my last day as a regular New Voices blogger, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this quote. It seems hyperbolic at first glance. To suggest that research funding is the key to hope seems to be a tad over-reaching. But, then you stop and think about it. What is hope, but the belief that the future can be better than the present? What is research but the search for a better future? Allow me to ramble a bit.

As a D.C. resident, I try and make the effort to brave the tourists and go to museums. Like many young men, my favorite museum has been - and always will be - the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Walking in and seeing planes and space shuttles from all generations always takes my breath away. Walking around that museum I see dozens of things that had been declared impossible. People said flight was impossible. People said space travel was science fiction to the extreme. It gives me hope knowing that we have done the impossible and been to the edge of science fiction.

During the 40th anniversary of the moon landing there have been numerous articles on the hope that "one small step" gave to a generation. Even now, the idea of walking on the moon sounds vaguely like science fiction. The fact that technology that seemed imaginary could be made real through science makes all things seem possible. If we can land a human on the moon, what is there that we can’t accomplish? That is hope.

Hope can also be personal.

My grandfather had his first heart attack in his 50's, long before I was born. This was when heart attacks were a death sentence and meant months in the hospital. He survived it, but was forced to retire. He would suffer further heart problems that eventually resulted in a bypass. Without the bypass surgery and improved medicines and preventative programs, he never would have lived long enough to meet even one of his grandchildren. Yet despite his heart problems, he lived to be 93 and had met his first great grand child when he passed away last year.

This is what I think of when I think of hope. This is the future that Paul Rogers envisioned: the hope of holding your first grandchild. The hope of walking on the moon. The hope of cars that don’t rely on gasoline anymore and better plants and vaccines for AIDS and cures for cancer. The grand dreams that we all have for the world will be sped along by the research of scientists the world over.

I will always think of my grandfather and the medical discoveries that allowed us to become friends. I hope for every family to be as lucky as I have been.

So, I’ll leave you with that. Without research there is no hope. Tell your friends.

P.S. I’m also hoping for jet packs.

Takao will be returning to Georgetown University Law School to pursue his juris doctorate this fall. New Voices was glad to have his unique voice with us as a regular blogger this summer and look forward to his guest posts in the future.

Monday, August 17, 2009

How To: Create an Organizational Facebook Page

By now, you’ve probably heard it over and over again—social media is changing the face of communication. Here at New Voices, we’ve seen social media, including Facebook, change the face of science communication and advocacy. Top science and research advocacy organizations, like the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association, have attracted large numbers of supporters using Facebook, including over 160,000 members for the American Cancer Society!

So how should a non-profit go about using Facebook to increase their reach on the internet? An informal survey of non-profits using Facebook revealed that the best pages are set up as Fan Pages, as opposed to Group Pages. Fan Pages are more interactive, and provide Facebook users with more opportunities than Group Pages. Any authorized representative of a business, non-profit, or organization can set up a Fan Page. We’ll give you a quick crash course. (Tip: before you create a Fan Page, you will need to have a personal Facebook page.)

To create a Facebook Fan Page:
  1. Visit to get started.
  2. Determine your Page category. Most New Voices readers’ organizations would probably fall under the Brand, Product, or Organization category. This is where you’ll find sub-categories like ‘non-profit,’ ‘government’ and ‘technology product / service.’
  3. Enter the name of your organization in the box and sign the authorization release. (Tip: you must sign the authorization release with the same name you used to create your personal Facebook page.)
Now it’s time to set up your page so it will set you apart from the crowd. For advice, New Voices turned to the Wild Apricot, a blog that provides tools and advice for volunteers, webmasters and administrators of associations and nonprofits. Wild Apricot suggests adding Applications to your Facebook page. Applications allow Facebook users even more opportunities to interact with your organization.

One of the most popular Applications for non-profits is Causes on Facebook, also referred to as ‘Causes.’ Causes allows your organization to recruit more Facebook users, keep them up to date with your organization’s latest information, and raise money for your organization if it is a registered U.S. or Canadian non-profit organization. The American Heart Association has raised over $10,000 for its beneficiaries! To get started with Causes, visit the Causes homepage and click ‘Start a Cause’ under the ‘Find a Cause’ tab.

When you’re on Facebook, don’t forget to visit the Your Congress-Your Health and Research!America fan pages.

See you on Facebook!

This is Part 3 of our Facebook How To Series.
Part 1: Using Facebook as an Advocacy Tool
Part 2: Using Facebook Advertising to Raise Awareness

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hoarding Knowledge

Comic credit: Scott Adams

We're hoarding our knowledge today too, as we get out and enjoy the sunshine a bit.

We'll be back on Monday with more exciting how-to's, statistics, anecdotes, and tools for improving science communication and advocacy. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

10 Rules for Making Your Case

Based on our ongoing discussion about whether or not science and politics mix, it seems like many readers think that there are ways in which scientists can engage in policy - if not politics.

To help those of you who aren't trained communicators on your path to engaging with the public and policymakers, here are ten rules adapted* from a December 2000 article from The Washington Lawyer. John Greenya's piece, "Make Your Case: Lessons from Journalists" may be dated, but his advice is not.

Rule 1: Get your side in the story.
If you aren't telling your story - the way you want it told - chances are no one will hear it.

Rule 2: Discard preconceptions.
Don't assume anything. Past experience can provide helpful guidance, but every crowd and every elected official is slightly different, so enter each situation with an open mind.

Rule 3: Honesty is always the best policy.
Explain what you know as simply as possible and without exaggeration. If you get a question and don't know the answer, just admit you aren't sure and promise to follow-up.

Rule 4: Get a sense of whom you are dealing with.
Know your audience: middle schoolers and parents of middle schoolers see things very differently.

Rule 5: Define the rules of engagement.
If questions get you off-track, ask the audience to hold them to the end. If you want to discuss a certain topic at a meeting, start the conversation with, "We're here today to discuss...". Be assertive and stay within whatever boundaries you design.

Rule 6: Provide easy-to-access information.
Bring materials with you to in-person meetings and keep your website up-to-date for those who are looking for details.

Rule 7: Organize media briefings.
Invite local journalists to come and take a tour of your lab. Have the community come to a demonstration. You don't need to have a press conference to get your news out there - everything from high school papers to Twitter posts to radio spots will get your message out there.

Rule 8: Ask to have your quotes verified.
If you aren't sure whether something you said was understood, ask someone to explain it back to you (preferably not during important meetings). If someone makes you a promise or says something quotable, be courteous and send them a copy before sharing it with others.

Rule 9: Be sensitive to deadline pressures.
Know when your schedule will be busy and avoid planning major communication at those times if possible. It will save you from feeling frazzled if something doesn't go to plan.

Rule 10: Be clear and concise.
No description necessary.

Those are ten easy rules to help keep you on track when you're communicating about research (or anything, really). You know what to do--all you have to do is get out and do it.

*The article was written specifically for lawyers on how to present their case to the media, and here we're using the rules with slightly different intentions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do Science and Politics Mix?

Here at New Voices, we talk a lot about ways that scientists can get engaged in advocacy and communicating with the public. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that there is some controversy in the scientific community over whether or not scientists should be advocates. We pose the following questions to get this point/counterpoint started:

Do scientists - especially those who receive federal funding - have a responsibility to communicate to the public about the research that funding supports?

Should scientists be involved in public policy?

Can scientists maintain their objectivity and be involved in politics?

Let the discussion begin ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Professor's Perspective on Undergraduate Research Experiences

Two weeks ago, my interview with Alison Flamm about the Fulbright application experience provided a student’s perspective on research opportunities.

For a different viewpoint, I interviewed Charles Umbanhower, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at St. Olaf College to get his perspective on working with undergraduate research assistants. Charles has worked with undergraduate research assistants for several years and has also acted as the Summer Research Director at St. Olaf.

1. Tell me briefly about your background working with undergraduate research assistants. How long have you been doing this? What types of projects have you worked on?

Have been working with undergrad research assistants for 18 years. Projects have ranged from lake sediment coring in places in Minnesota and as far away as Mongolia or northern Manitoba to projects on campus that have included imaging/web posting of historical journals and plant specimens, modeling of fire behavior and the flexural stiffness of twigs.

2. What do you enjoy most about working with student research assistants?

The questions they ask. Prompts me to reexamine assumptions. A lot like teaching this way. Also, this is great chance to know students at a personal level which helps me with my teaching.

3. What is most challenging about this type of experience?

Trying to encourage independence of thought/effort while at the same time wanting students to ask questions. A real challenge is when they "mess-up" and then trying to fix the problem.

4. Do you have any other comments or suggestions for professors or researchers who are considering taking on undergraduate assistants?

Expect excellence but also remember that most undergraduate assistants lack the experience/focus that colleagues/graduate students would bring to a project. Remember that the research is as much a teaching/learning experience as it is a research project. Be sure to give the student(s) a chance for creativity and in particular a chance to summarize/synthesize their work in form of a paper/talk/poster. Don't expect that supervising student researcher will mean you have to spend less time on particular project.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Scientists

"Most of them are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other, in spite of these common characteristics...
"One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought...
"Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the wold of experience, and thus to overcome it...

"He makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience."
~Albert Einstein, address on the occasion of Max Planck's 60th birthday delivered at the Physical Society in Berlin

Source: Essays in Science by Albert Einstein, originally published in 1934

Friday, August 7, 2009

Poll Methodology

Photo credit: Adam Tinworth

There's been an excellent discussion going on over at The Intersection about a piece of poll data that we posted last week regarding how many Americans could name a living scientist.

We released that single slide from the data set as a preview of more data that will be coming out from our June 2009 survey. When the rest of the data is officially released, we'll be able to discuss it in more detail.

In the meantime, however, we wanted to share a little about the methodology of the polling, which seemed to be the cause of some concern.

Research!America has been commissioning public opinion research for 17 years, including both national and state polls (in 45 states!). The polls have been conducted both by telephone and online with well-established firms such as Charlton Research and Harris Interactive.

Here's a look at the general methodology for this polling:
Telephone (random digit dialing) polls are conducted with a sample size of 800 to 1000 American adults for a sampling error of +/- 3.5%. Data are demographically representative of adult U.S. residents.

Online polls are conducted with a sample size of 1000 to 2000 from a randomly generated pool of American adults for a theoretical sampling error of +/- 3.1%. Data are demographically representative of adult U.S. residents.
We've asked "Can you name a living scientist?" and other similar questions throughout the years, and therefore have multiple "glimpses of public opinion in time" on this subject, so we feel confident that the 65%/35% split is a good representation.

For those who are concerned about the presentation of the data, the graphic indicated 278 total mentions and not the total number of respondents to the survey. Those 278 represent the total number of responses of the 35% of Americans who said they could name a living scientist.

The commenters brought up a number of other interesting points, and we are energized by this conversation. When we get the greenlight to share the rest of the polling data, we'll have more to say about how and why questions like this are asked in national polls, and some analysis of the data.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Visit District Offices for Your Congress-Your Health

Your congressional delegation needs to hear from you about Your Congress-Your Health. The August district work period is an ideal time to stop-by your representative's and senators' offices to let them know that you want them to share their views on health and research on

Download and print a Your Congress-Your Health flier. Choose from one of three fliers that each highlight a different topic.
Complete your personal information and message and then drop-off a copy at the district office of each of your congressional members. Find contact information for your representative and senators.

Alternatively, you can print a flier and bring it to a town hall meeting, fax it to your members or you can send them an e-mail. Take action and visit your local congressional offices today!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings

It's the August congressional recess and there are a lot of town hall meetings, listening sessions, and other community gatherings going on across America. Many members of Congress are going to be in their home states and districts, so now is the perfect time to get out and make your voices heard. For more information about when and where (many are having multiple meetings), check out the member's homepage. Some members that will be holding meetings (and links to their main pages) include:

Rep. Jo Bonner

Sen. Mark Begich

Rep. Trent Franks
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick

Rep. John Boozman

Rep. Susan Davis
Rep. Anna Eshoo
Rep. Sam Farr
Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Dan Lungren
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
Rep. Jackie Speier
Rep. Fortney Stark
Rep. Diane Watson

Rep. Diana DeGette
Rep. Ed Perlmutter
Rep. Jared Polis

Rep. Joe Courtney
Rep. Chris Murphy

Rep. Hank Johnson
Rep. Jack Kingston
Rep. David Scott

Rep. Danny Davis
(check out Davis' responses to Your Congress-Your Health)
Rep. Jesse Jackson
Rep. Timothy Johnson
Rep. Janice Schakowsky

Sen. Chuck Grassley
Rep. Leonard Boswell
Rep. Bruce Braley

Rep. Jerry Moran

Sen. Ben Cardin
Rep. Donna Edwards
Rep. Frank Kratovil

Rep. Niki Tsongas

Rep. Keith Ellison

Rep. Gene Taylor

Sen. Claire McCaskill

Rep. Denny Rehberg

Rep. Adrian Smith

New Hampshire
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen

New Jersey
Rep. Rush Holt
Rep. Steven Rothman

New Mexico
Rep. Martin Heinrich

New York
Rep. Dan Maffei
Rep. Eric Massa
(check out Massa's responses to Your Congress-Your Health)

North Carolina
Rep. Howard Coble
Rep. Patrick McHenry

Rep. Tom Cole
Rep. Frank Lucas

Rep. Kurt Schrader
Rep. David Wu

Sen. Arlen Specter
Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper

South Carolina
Rep. Bob Inglis

Rep. Steve Cohen

Rep. Joe Barton
Rep. Michael Burgess
Rep. Gene Green
Rep. Ted Poe
Rep. Pete Sessions

Rep. Jason Chaffetz

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Rep. Rick Boucher
Rep. Jim Moran
Rep. Tom Perriello

Rep. Rick Larsen
Rep. Adam Smith

Rep. Steve Kagen
Rep. Tom Petri
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner
Rep. Tammy Baldwin

This is based on announced August meetings. We'll be updating with September meetings and newly announced August meetings in the near future.
Updated: 8/6/09 at 10:00 a.m.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cancer Prevention Week

Photo credit: tread

This week is Cancer Prevention Week. Since we’re entering the last month of summer and the temptation to enjoy the last days of summer outside is especially strong, I thought it would be appropriate to focus on skin cancer, which accounts for nearly half of all cancer cases within the United States and is usually sun-related.

First, some basic information:

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with more than one million new cases per year. There are multiple types, including melanoma and non-melanoma (basal or squamous cell).

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It accounts for only a small portion of skin cancer (about 68,720 or 6.9% of total skin cancer cases per year) but comprises almost three-quarters (8,650) of the estimated 11,590 skin cancer deaths per year. The five-year survival rate is 99% for localized melanoma (meaning it has not spread to other parts of the body), 65% for regional stage and 16% for distant stage melanoma.

Basal or squamous cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer; over one million of diagnoses each year fall into this category. It generally occurs on the sun-exposed areas of the body and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It is highly curable if diagnosed and treated promptly.

And some tips to help you protect yourself:

Since the majority (more than one million) of non-melanoma cases are related to sun exposure, you should be sure to protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and covering your skin with clothing, hats, and sunglasses. This is true even in the winter—I got one of the worst sunburns I’ve ever had while skiing in February.

Also be aware of other factors that can increase your risk of skin cancer; you should be especially careful if any of these apply to you. They include a fair complexion, family history, abnormal moles, severe sunburns earlier in life, and repeated exposure to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium.

Finally, be attentive to your skin and any changes in its appearance as these can indicate pre-cancerous or cancerous areas. Watch for new or atypical moles and lesions like the ones in this WebMd slideshow and tell your doctor right away if you notice anything unusual. Pre-cancerous spots can be removed fairly easily, and it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

Don't let us steal your sunshine—moderate sun exposure is good for you and provides a crucial source of vitamin D—but be sure to wear sunscreen!

Source: American Cancer Society Skin Cancer Facts Page. You can find more information about skin cancer and other types of cancer on the ACS website. Also be sure to check out Research!America's Cancer Fact Sheet.

Monday, August 3, 2009

August is _____ Month

As we roll merrily into August, there are lots of special health issues to highlight. August is host to...

Cataract Awareness Month
"A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision," according to the National Eye Institute. More than half of all Americans will develop a cataract by the age of 80.

Children's Eye Health and Safety Month
If anyone has ever told you to "Be careful - you'll put an eye out!", this month is the time to thank them for helping you keep your vision intact.

National Immunization Awareness Month
According to the WHO, immunization is the process used to make a person immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by giving them a vaccine.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) "is the leading genetic cause of death in infants and toddlers," according to the SMA Foundation. SMA is caused by an absence or defect in a person's genes that causes their brain to lose control of motor function, which eventually leads to the deterioration of muscles. Approximately 7 million Americans are carriers for this disease.

Psoriasis Awareness Month
According to the Mayo Clinic, psoriasis is a common chronic skin condition that can cause cells to build up rapidly and create scaly or red patches. For some of the 7.5 million Americans, psoriasis is merely an irritation, or others it can be debilitating.

We hope you'll take some time to learn more about these conditions this month - and let us know if you come across any interesting research!

Source: National Health Information Center