Why Scientists Should Embrace Political Advocacy

In an October article from Cell magazine (subscription required), Yale biologist Thomas D. Pollard, MD, explains his views on “why all scientists should feel obligated to do their part to support the community by advocating for the benefits of government investments in scientific research and training.”

Pollard illustrates how the political climate has changed in the past decade. No longer can scientists leave the advocacy to others in favor of lab work. That shortsightedness could have potentially disastrous effects on funding for a lab or institution.

The fact is that, as Pollard states, “weak tax revenues and growing deficits have led politicians to compromise funding for research in spite of the established benefit of basic research for stimulating economic growth.” The scientific community “must take responsibility to convince politicians that funding biomedical research will benefit not only human health, but also our economic well-being.”

Advocacy is particularly important due with government funding for scientific research in jeopardy with pending across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration. It is vital that scientists take the time to communicate with policy makers. In the past, Members of Congress such as Research!America Chair John E. Porter or the late Sen. Arlen Specter used their influence on Capitol Hill to champion funding for research. But it’s time for a new generation of politicians willing to speak on behalf of scientists.

Finally, Pollard notes several obligations of scientists which will enable successful advocacy both locally and in Washington. Those obligations include joining a professional society with an advocacy program and participating in their grassroots efforts. Scientists should also visit their representatives to explain how science is important to both individuals and communities at large. Finally, scientists should let their elected officials know about the funding of grant applications, whether by thanking them when a grant is funded or by explaining the impact of the lack of funds. These steps will help to promote science as a valuable cause for better health and economic prosperity.

Pollard’s article should serve as a wake-up call to scientists who believe that their funding will remain stable or increase without a significant effort on their part. Scientists must educate lawmakers about the benefits of biomedical and health research and step up efforts to find new champions for the research enterprise.

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