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.
Paula Skedsvold is the executive director of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences. She was an American Psychological Association Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow from 1997 to 1998 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Share a story from your past that led to your interest in science advocacy.
When I was younger, I used to take long walks with my father — “solving the problems of the world” as my family and friends would put it. He was a chemist and had a huge curiosity about the world and especially people. As we walked, we would encounter people and try to create stories about their lives. It tapped into my own natural curiosity about people and led to my interest in the study of mind and behavior through psychological science. During graduate school, I realized that my true interests lie in bringing research into policy circles, and that’s how I’ve shaped my career. The study of how people think, feel, and behave has implications for so many areas of policy.
What have you done to be a Force for Science?
My goal has been to work across the scientific community to make sure that all sciences are funded and that no areas of science are targeted for cuts, including the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior. In recent years, our work in collaboration with the larger scientific community has prevented cuts to areas of science at the National Science Foundation, including a close to 45% cut to the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate.
What science advocacy activity are you most proud of?
Besides our successful work to prevent massive cuts to the NSF SBE Directorate, it would have to be our current effort to ensure that NIH is addressing the concerns of basic behavioral and brain scientists as the agency implements policies that do not align with their research. We have made good progress and are hopeful that we will reach a satisfactory place for all concerned.
What advice do you have for those who’d like to get started advocating for science?
Many scientists tend to steer clear of advocacy, but it is so important for scientists to tell their stories. It creates excitement around the topics and can energize young people to get excited about science. Advocacy for science can be as simple as speaking in schools and community settings about research and why it’s important. Scientists can also step up when there are issues before Congress affecting science; elected officials want to know where their constituents stand on the issues. For those who want to take their engagement in policy and advocacy to the next level, there is no substitute for taking a year or two in a Congressional or Executive Branch fellowship offered through AAAS or any number of professional societies. There are so many ways to lend a hand in the service of science and the public good.
Share a web link/video/blog that you’ve thought was especially compelling at communicating science.
One of the biggest challenges in our community is succinctly communicating to Congress and the public why our sciences are important to the nation, especially linking it back to basic science. NSF recently released an excellent video that does the job well.
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.