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.
Maryam Zaringhalam is a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow. She received her PhD in molecular biology from The Rockefeller University.
Share a story from your past that led to your interest in science advocacy
I co-host and produce a science policy and advocacy podcast called Science Soapbox. A couple years ago we interviewed Dr. Marnie Gelbart from the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd) about the outreach and education work they do. During our conversation, she said that many of the communities pgEd works [with] equate science with harm. She explained that their misgivings were not irrational, but instead were the result of real historic injustices done in the name of scientific progress. Before then, I had never thought much about the history of science. I did my graduate work at an institution with the motto, “Science for the benefit of humanity,” and I had taken that motto to heart. But after that interview, I realized that there was work to do within the scientific community advocating about what kind of science we should do and think through how it should benefit humanity. We need to think through the consequences of the questions we ask and how the fruits of our research are applied.
What science advocacy activity are you most proud of?
I firmly believe that unless scientists strive to improve our own institutions from the inside, we have no place demanding that anyone support our institutions. Combating harassment is a big piece of that. I shared some of these thoughts on Facebook in the fall. The discussion culminated in organizing an anti-harassment and bystander training workshop, which we hosted in January as a partnership between 500 Women Scientists, UCS Science Network, the DC Science Writers Association, and the AAAS STPF Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion group. While the content of the workshop is something to be proud of, I’m actually most proud of the planning process leading up to it. Advocacy and organizing isn’t accomplished by individual actors, but requires partners with aligned interests to actions and initiatives move forward. This workshop was made possible by collaborating to find a workshop facilitator, ensure the training was inclusive, secure funding, and promote the event.
What advice do you have for those who’d like to get started advocating for science?
Make sure your advocacy is inclusive. Science historically hasn’t benefited everyone equally. Much of that discrepancy can be attributed to the lack of diversity and inclusion in research institutions. It’s impossible for science to serve everyone when we don’t have a diversity of voices and perspectives at the table. While we can’t change the makeup of our institutions overnight, we do have the power to change our social media diets and reading habits. I made a concerted effort last year to curate what I read and see to make sure it includes voices and perspectives that challenge my own. I put together some of the most influential pieces I read last year together in a Storify.
Tell us about a hobby or passion related to science advocacy
Telling effective and compelling stories is the greatest tool at your disposal as a communicator. So, I’m really proud be a part of The Story Collider team, where we bring true, personal, science-inspired stories to live and podcast audiences around the world. Public speaking and vulnerability are not things that come naturally to me. That’s the case for most scientists I know; we’re taught to strive towards objectivity at the expense of our feelings and motivations. We’re trained out of authentic expression, which is a crucial component in advocacy. The first time I told a story on The Story Collider stage was transformative because I got to bring all parts of myself to the stage and see that resonate with an audience. Now, working as a producer, I get to share that feeling with the folks who get up on our stage. I get to tell them it’s okay to be a scientist and a human being!
Share a Web link/video/blog etc. that you’ve thought was especially compelling at communicating science.
In 2006, neuroscientist Ben Barres’s wrote a commentary for Nature called “Does gender matter?” in response to former Harvard president Larry Summer’s comments that the gender gap in economics might be attributed to innate differences between men and women. An accomplished neuroscientist, Barres spoke to the weak science that Summers and his supporters used to justify his claims. And as a transgender man who transitioned in the middle of his career, Barres spoke about his own experiences navigating the world of science first as a woman, and later as a man. Twelve years later, we’re still seeing science warped to justify people’s inherent biases and pathological indifference towards equity. In January, after Barres’s death, Nature released the article from behind its paywall. I haven’t seen many scientists as influential and well-respected as Barres use their platform to speak out against systemic inequity. For his legacy, I’m extremely grateful.
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.