Scientists typically master the requirements of their vocation early on — delivering a lecture, writing a grant proposal, setting up a lab. And yet even some of the most accomplished scientists remain largely in the dark about the most basic information underpinning their work: the circumstances surrounding the decision to pay them to do the science in the first place.

The world leader in the public funding of science is, of course, the United States. And America's purse-strings are held not by the president, but by the 435 representatives and 100 senators who make up the US Congress. Many scientists have only the vaguest idea about how that much-maligned institution does its business.

On page 248 of this issue, we introduce a new column that is intended to rectify that and to give readers of Nature a fuller insight into how and why different topics take their place in America's research and development agenda. Until the end of last year, the column's author, David Goldston, served as chief of staff for the House Committee on Science, helping to set the legislative agenda for science and technology before Congress.

For the past 20 years, Goldston has been at the heart of forging US science and environmental policy. He is now leaving Capitol Hill on the retirement of his long-time boss, Representative Sherwood Boehlert (Republican, New York). In addition to writing exclusively for Nature, Goldston will serve as a visiting lecturer in science and environmental policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, New Jersey.

Goldston's column, Party of One, will provide a seasoned insider's take on the interaction between science and politics. From stem cells and energy policy to climate change and space exploration, it will provide a unique perspective on why things work, or don't work, in Washington DC. And stripped of the congressional staffer's customary anonymity, Goldston will be able to offer his own candid opinions on what's really up, on Capitol Hill. As a result, we are confident that our readers in the United States and around the world will gain a valuable insight into some of the forces that help shape science today.