Time to Focus on the Power of Science Locally and Beyond, Experts Say

Visit the AAAS Force for Science website to follow the latest updates related to AAAS advocacy activities.


Rebecca Aicher, David Goldston and Sarah Rovito participate in a March 27 panel at the 2017 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Forum. | Mark F. Jones/CJVISIONS.com 

Communicating the value of science is a vital undertaking that will continue long after the March for Science brings together friends and supporters worldwide, said several experts at the 2017 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Forum.

“This truly is an opportune time,” said Sarah Rovito, assistant director of research policy at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, during a panel discussion hosted by AAAS on the enduring importance of highlighting scientific discoveries. “The March for Science is really a great first step for scientists to start down a path of continued, sustained advocacy.”

Leveraging the enthusiasm of the March for Science and its growing list of more than 500 satellite marches across the globe has been a topic at the forefront of the scientific community. AAAS plans to carry on its commitment to that endeavor well beyond the March, including a Facebook live chat on April 12 on “Messaging for the March for Science,” an April 19 webinar on “Advocating for Science Beyond the March” and other resources and upcoming events.

Promoting the power and consequence of science “is more important than ever right now,” particularly as critics question the role of evidence-based science in policymaking and as Congress considers significant proposed cuts to federal funding for scientific research that drives innovation, said Tobin Smith, vice president of policy at the Association of American Universities, during the March 27 S&T Policy Forum session “Advocating for Science: More Than a One-Day Activity.”

Advancing science has been a core tenet of AAAS’s mission over its 169-year history. The programs and initiatives of the world’s largest general scientific organization have provided members of the scientific community and the public with an array of resources to communicate the importance of science, forum participants noted. “We want people to consider what it takes for science to thrive and act to protect science and everything it stands for,” said Rovito at the forum.

To harness the energy already generated by the March for Science, “clear, science-based messages must be presented repeatedly to both those making policy and to the broader public, and these messages should focus on the value of scientific knowledge that results from well-funded research,” added Rovito.

One avenue for scientists to spread the word about the value of their work and its contributions to society, before and after the March, is through social media, where plans for the March first emerged, noted Rebecca Aicher, a AAAS community engagement manager.

Although Facebook, Twitter and Instagram collectively have more than a billion users, Aicher suggested that scientists start with people they know and respect, even those they might not agree with. They should listen and learn from the people they follow and share others’ work from reputable sources, she said. Scientists should add their own perspectives informed by their scientific understanding to explain clearly how a piece of information or event informs policy and affects society, she added.

“Your reach via these platforms is so much larger than just word-of-mouth or presenting at a forum for science and technology policy or going to a discipline-specific meeting and talking about your research,” Aicher said.

It is crucial to understand your audience — and the “assumptions and premises you are bumping up against” as you reach out to them, said David Goldston, director of government affairs at Natural Resources Defense Council, at the forum. The key to effectively connecting to your audience is to “be as local as possible,” added Goldston.

Aicher too recommended that scientists use social media to make connections with residents, policymakers and organizations in their communities. Members of the scientific community can share information about public lectures, volunteer opportunities and family science events where children can meet scientists — opportunities for “crucial,” face-to-face communication that only magnify its impact, Aicher said.

Scientists should also call their representatives, schedule meetings, attend constituent sessions and invite their representatives to visit and tour their institutions, lab or field work locations, Rovito said – approaches likely to elevate local engagement.

Rovito encouraged scientists to look for multiple ways to reach out, however small, and focus on telling stories about their work that demonstrate how it affects the scientific enterprise and improves the world. “If there’s an issue impacting your research that’s being discussed, by all means engage,” Rovito said.

Multiple resources are available to scientists interested in reaching out to policymakers and the public, the panelists noted. Scientists can consult with their institutions’ public affairs and government relations offices and join groups like Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy that seek to empower scientists to involve themselves in the policymaking process, panelists said. AAAS has created a toolkit to help guide such outreach efforts, and has a platform that allows groups to connect through the science communication and collaboration platform Trellis.

“It’s time for scientists to step out of the lab and out of the field and engage,” Rovito said.

[Associated image: Attendees of the 2017 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Forum learn strategies for communicating the importance of science./Mark F. Jones/CJVISIONS.com]