Really, your congressperson will listen to you

Dear Labby,

I’m concerned about funding for basic science and I care about science policy issues that affect cell biology research. I want to do more to get the message to Capitol Hill. My problem is that I live and work in a state that’s dominated by politicians who stand for ideologies that are directly opposed to my point of view. I just think it would be a waste of my time to contact them or try to get them to support science. But my PI says that’s defeatist and I should try anyway. What do you think?

Dear Disenfranchised,

Labby hears this concern often, but not so often from cell biologists who’ve actually been to Capitol Hill and talked with their representatives or the staffers in their offices. Support for the National Institutes of Health is strong on both sides of the aisle, and increasingly there is strong support for science in general. You will likely find that you get a warm reception, even when you may disagree strongly with your representative’s positions on other issues, if the conversation is about science. There is, of course, strong support for disease-related research, but there’s also a pretty good level of comprehension of the importance of basic science discoveries that underpin more applied research.

In addition, your audience is likely to appreciate information that they can share with their constituents relating to the economic benefit of the biotech industries that grow out of a strong research base at universities and institutes in their districts. You can even point out the growing discussion of the importance of science to national security and economic competitiveness as the impact of R&D investment in China and other nations becomes clear to our policy makers.

In general, your representatives and their staffs will welcome your input, will be interested in your science, and will be keen to understand how you are affected by their votes. It’s very rare to find anyone who will argue with your point of view, even though they might disagree with you completely on other issues.

The Policy & Outreach tab on the ASCB website includes a number of ways you can be involved in advocacy and outreach. The Advocacy and Policy section includes a whole Advocacy Toolkit with one-page guides on how you can be an advocate for science, depending on how much time you have to give to the effort. These “How To” guides include important suggestions on how to schedule meetings on Capitol Hill and what Hill meetings are like.

You will find that your representatives and their staffs are thoughtful and their views more nuanced than you expect. So Labby’s advice is definitely to take every opportunity you can to advocate and to educate. Your interaction can give your representatives good ideas and the reasoning behind public positions that will support science.


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