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Featured Force: Judith Weis

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Judith Weis

Each month, we highlight a AAAS member who is a force for science. To find out how you can be a force for science, visit www.forceforscience.org.

Judith Weis is a professor of marine biology at Rutgers University, Newark. She was an American Society of Zoologists Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow from 1983 to 1984. 

Share a comment or opinion you have on a topical science-related issue.

While there is much publicity about climate change, there is very little public knowledge about the related issue of ocean acidification (OA), which is caused by CO2 dissolving in the ocean and reducing its pH. This causes difficulties for marine animals that make shells with calcium carbonate — it is more difficult to make shells, and shells are more likely to dissolve. OA also causes problems in olfaction — the sense of smell — which marine animals use for finding mates, homing, and navigation.

What led to your interest in science advocacy?

During the Reagan administration I was studying effects of aquatic pollution, and I was appalled by the EPA’s policies. I naively thought that the misguided policies were a result of them “not understanding the science,” and decided I needed to go to Washington to explain it to them. That led to a AAAS Fellowship in the U.S. Senate. During the fellowship I worked with the Environmental and Public Works Committee on many issues including pesticides, ground water, and drinking water, and learned far more than my minor influence on the legislation.

If you could pick one scientist (living or dead) to have dinner with, who would it be and why?

Rachel Carson. Her books on the ocean (“The Sea Around Us” and others) were one impetus for me to study marine biology, and her later book “Silent Spring” stimulated my interest in pollution and environmental issues in general. A wonderful writer, she was an inspiration and someone I would have liked to know. I saw a video of her appearance on a CBS news special about “Silent Spring,” when she was being vilified by the chemical companies, and how composed and articulate she was in rebutting their charges and insults. Shortly after that appearance, she died of breast cancer.

What contact have you had with your representatives?

I frequently write to representatives about bills they are working on; I visit offices to discuss policies, most often with staffers. I have also testified at hearings at the city, state, and national level. One memorable occasion in the late ‘80s was when I testified at a hearing on a bill to ban the use of tributyltin (TBT), a very toxic chemical in antifouling paints for boats. As I approached the hearing room, I noticed many reporters, TV cameras, etc., in the hallway and was pleased that the hearing would be well publicized. Well, it turned out that there was another hearing nearby, in which Oliver North was testifying about the Iran-Contra affair.

What have you done to be a Force for Science?

I have balanced being an academic scientist with being involved in policy by serving on science advisory committees. I have served on advisory committees for the EPA, NOAA, and the National Research Council. More locally, I chair the Science Advisory Board of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and co-chair the Science and Technical Advisory Committee of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program. I am active in environmental organizations, including the Plastic-Free Waters Partnership in the New York area and Sierra Club’s National Marine Team.

 

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are those of the AAAS member and are not necessarily the opinions of AAAS, its officers, general members, and/or AAAS MemberCentral department or staff.

 

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<p>Judith Weis</p>
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Caitlin Jennings