Speaking to us in the morning on the first day were Dan Evans (American Association for the Advancement of Science), Alan Thornhill (US Geological Survey), Laura Petes (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association), and John Dennis (National Park Service). Collectively, they spoke about their backgrounds, how they managed to get to where they were at their respective organizations, and about best practices for speaking with policymakers. For me, their stories were inspirational, as none of them started out with a focus on science policy, but they eventually made their ways into the field (such as I hope to do). It was amazing to hear about the many jobs they have and the many ways in which they help influence the scientific landscape. They explained to us that the job of a scientist in science policy is to inform policymakers on what we know about important scientific issues (e.g. climate change, invasive and endangered species, and ecosystem services such as insect pollination) and on what their likely consequences might be, so that the policymakers can then determine the best course of action. What is key here is that scientists do not directly tell policymakers what to do, but instead translate and synthesize the research into basic, relevant messages for them. In such a way, policymakers may better understand the science behind the issues for making well-informed decisions.
In the afternoon session, Kei Koizumi, from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, presented a big picture look at President Obama's 2015 budget proposal. As mentioned in my last post, President Obama definitely sees how federal funding in science research and development has made our country a global leader in both basic and applied science. Despite his viewpoint, increases in federal funding have remained below the level of inflation for several years. There are, however, some bright spots in the proposed budget dealing with funding to science R&D. First of all, there is a great investment in climate change research, to the tune of $2.5 billion per year. Rather than spending this money solely on understanding, predicting, and assessing the effects of climate change, a major focus now is on ways in which we can adapt to the consequences of a changing climate. In addition, there is a 4% increase in funding proposed for STEM education and training. Of the $2.9 billion dollars budgeted for STEM, $320 million would go to the Department of Education to support 100,000 new STEM teachers and $118 million to improving the retention of undergraduates in STEM fields after they graduate. Mr. Koizumi also outlined for us three of the biggest misconceptions by policymakers about science funding. These were: 1. half of federal funding for science research is awarded to academic universities/colleges; 2. these awards are the result of a competitive and rigorous peer-reviewed process; and 3. federally-supported scientific research means jobs for a "lot of people."
After this helpful day of science policy overview, and with all of this information and numbers swimming in my head, I went to sleep well-prepared and excited to meet with my Congressmen in the morning.
Photo: In between the morning and afternoon sessions, I was able to do a little D.C. sight-seeing around the White House.