Injecting molecules from a sea slug that received tail shocks into one that didn’t made the recipient animal behave more cautiously.
A recent toast to James Watson highlights a tolerance for bigotry many want excised from the scientific community.
Mention lobbying to a scientist and until quite recently the typical response was disinterest or discomfort. Active involvement in the political fray over the public funding of research has simply not been within the experience of most scientists. Moreover, the pejorative connotations evoked by terms like "lobby" and "political action committee"
May 4, 1987|
Historically, scientists have been more comfortable with indirect—or so-called non-lobbying—lobbying efforts, such as those of the academies and national associations. But that is changing, here and abroad.
"The dependence of scientific research on the large sums that have to be voted on by popularly elected governments and legislative bodies has focused the minds of scientists on the public arena to an extent that is unprecedented," Edward Shils, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, observed recently. "The freedom they enjoyed when research projects were small and demands for practical results were less insistent is no longer the natural and inevitable condition of scientific research. The outer world has forced itself into the horizon of scientists as never before." ("Science and Scientists in the Public Arena," American Scholar, Spring 1987, p. 195) Indeed, necessity has converted many of us to political involvement. Here are a few examples from around the world:
Such examples of overt political action by scientists and their representatives would have been unheard of only a decade ago. But the crises in funding for scientific research around the globe, as well as the qualitative change big science ushered in, has stirred many a scientist from political somnolence.
The scientific community has a longstanding commitment to political activism concerning matters of conscience (I am thinking of the Federation of American Scientists and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others), but this new attention to the politics of the science funding is, in my view, welcome and overdue. And this is not my view alone. Readers of The Scientist have seen Frank Press, president of the National Academy of Sciences, Alvin Trivelpiece, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, former U.S. Representative Don Fuqua, current U.S. Representative George E. Brown (D-Calif.), and Sir George Porter endorse political action by scientists. Who better than they know the workings of government and what must be done to help science?
There are at least three major reasons why science lobbying is essential. In the short term, it increases the likelihood that funding for basic and applied research for the next fiscal year is available for worthy science projects, which otherwise might be eclipsed by the demands of other special interest groups who have the advantage of years of experience in gaining the attention of the decision-makers in government. It's a matter of coping with reality. Second, and in the long term, lobbying goes far beyond buttonholing representatives in the corridors of power. When done correctly, lobbying is an educational effort—one directed not only at elected officials but also at the public, whose support is vital to science.
Finally, public expenditure on science is tantamount to defining science policy. By lobbying, whether through letter-writing or through membership in an association that lobbies, scientists take an active role in helping to shape that policy rather than merely reacting to what is presented by government officials. A case in point is the science policy of the Reagan administration. By its advancement of flashy big-ticket items, such as SDI research, the Shuttle, the Superconducting Supercollider, and NSF's Centers program (some or all of which may be worthy of support), the Reagan administration has taken the lead in shaping science policy now and in the coming years. If, as the continuing federal deficit would seem to require, funding for these programs cuts into funding for individual investigators and little science projects, many scientists will wish they had been more vocal in their preferences for public funding of science.
There is a science to politics and, for the sake of science, scientists must learn to lobby.