Science Lobbying – The role of science in politics and vice versa – Scientists and Engineers for America

I listened to a very interesting Science Friday Podcast today (I listen to them on my bike rides to/from work here in Davis, CA, the most bike friendly town in which I have ever lived). This particular podcast had as one of the guests Susan F. Wood. Some people may remember that she resigned from a top job at the FDA over what she felt was politics getting in the way of good science.

Well, rather than disappear as some higher ups in the executive branch do after quitting, she has jumped into a whole new realm. She has helped start a group called Scientists and Engineers for America. Their aim is to help elect to office people

who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy

from the NY Times article about this.

They have even created a “bill of rights” for scientists. Among the rights they include:

  1. Federal policy shall be made using the best available science and analysis both from within the government and from the rest of society.
  2. The federal government shall never intentionally publish false or misleading scientific information nor post such material on federal websites.
  3. Scientists conducting research or analysis with federal funding shall be free to discuss and publish the results of unclassified research after a reasonable period of review without fear of intimidation or adverse personnel action.
  4. Federal employees reporting what they believe to be manipulation of federal research and analysis for political or ideological reasons should be free to bring this information to the attention of the public and shall be protected from intimidation, retribution or adverse personnel action by effective enforcement of Whistle Blower laws.
  5. No scientists should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of their research.
  6. Appointments to federal scientific advisory committees shall be based on the candidate’s scientific qualifications, not political affiliation or ideology.
  7. The federal government shall not support any science education program that includes instruction in concepts that are derived from ideology and not science.
  8. While scientists may elect to withhold methods or studies that might be misused there shall be no federal prohibition on publication of basic research results. Decisions made about blocking the release of information about specific applied research and technologies for reasons of national security shall be the result of a transparent process. Classification decisions shall be made by trained professionals using a clear set of published criteria and there shall be a clear process for challenging decisions and a process for remedying mistakes and abuses of the classification system.

I confess to being a little worried that they may become too partisan and to be effective I think they should try to be as non partisan as possible (although there is no doubt that the current administration has violated more of the items in their bill of rights than probably any previous administration). Neverthless, this sounds like a great idea and hopefully they can help increase the use of science in decision making.

To sign up go to http://www.sefora.org/

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

One thought on “Science Lobbying – The role of science in politics and vice versa – Scientists and Engineers for America”

  1. Well, I joined SEA a few weeks ago (which is free), and gave them $25. I understand the fear that it may get too partisan — that’s pretty much what happened to groups like “Science in the Public Interest” in the 1970s/1980s. But, I think scientists do need a lobbying group — other professionals such as physicians and lawyers have groups looking out for their interests, after all.

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