As a senior adviser in the US Senate for the past decade, I find that scientists should be stronger advocates for science. They could learn from farmers, who last December persuaded a partisan Congress to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill.
Farmers regularly visit their lawmakers in Washington DC and in district offices. They keep track of policies that affect their operations, organize themselves into powerful entities and work with coalition partners to advance their agenda. By contrast, scientists rarely visit their congressional offices, and, when they do, they frequently fail to put their case convincingly or to engage on a personal level. As a result, Congress often ignores the science community’s advice, without fear of political backlash. That is not an option in the face of the smaller but more effectively organized agricultural community.
Like the farmers, selected scientists should act as ambassadors on behalf of their fellow workers. They must engage with their elected officials on important issues such as federal research funding, science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, basing public policies on scientific evidence and holding the Executive Branch accountable when it dismisses scientific advice. They could end up with powerful allies on both sides of the aisle.
Nature 566, 39 (2019)