Politics, Science Processes Different
A trip to Washington, D.C., is always eye opening.
My taxi driver there was from Afghanistan and was very knowledgeable; we had a long talk about his country and world politics. It was a good introduction to Capitol Hill.
I was there attending the annual AGI Leadership Conference at the American Chemical Society building, where several speakers discussed the best ways to influence legislation.
AAPG’s GEO-DC office had helped build the program, along with GSA and AGU. The goals were to:
- Gain an understanding of policymakers’ perceptions, interest and need for science in making policy decisions.
- Develop strategies to enhance the understanding of science among policy makers and their staff.
- Consider ways to bring scientists and policy makers together.
- Suggest guidelines and resource that can be used by geoscientist to help them communicate science to policymakers.
One of the best comments was a description of the thought process of a congressman compared to that of a scientist.
The accompanying graphic above is my modified version of that description.
It makes you understand how difficult it is sometimes for scientists and politicians to communicate -- however, it is important to note that a politician is often required to make decisions within a relatively short period of time, data or no. They do not always have time to wait for scientist to check all the data, build multiple working hypotheses and come to a conclusion.
The key point, which was repeated several times, is you must sell your position. Make sure presentations to policymakers are compelling, short and to the point, with preferably a one or two-page white paper.
The effect of the media also was discussed. The rhetoric in Washington, D.C., can be wild, so it is difficult for scientists on this issue to get their information to legislators without the media presenting it in a different context.
One item that came across crystal clear is how global climate change is influencing legislation. For example, the same people who were anti-nuclear a few years ago are now saying that its time to reconsider this source of energy.
On the way east to D.C., I was reading a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. The writer was railing against Congress for scheduling daylight savings several weeks earlier this year, thus causing an extra hour of sunlight each day and amplifying the effects of global warming.
Hmm ... I’m still thinking about that one.
AAPG’s ad hoc Committee on Global Climate Change probably did not consider the “daylight savings time enigma” when they were reviewing AAPG’s statement.
An overarching theme of the meeting was the importance of “grassroots” in influencing legislation. AAPG has had recent influence through the GEO-DC office and the DPA Governmental Affairs Committee contact system in influencing legislation to provide offshore access off of the Virginal coast. Over 1,500 responded.
For geoscientists who want to start influencing legislation, it is time to use our local contacts and visit our congressmen, especially House representatives in their districts. Congressmen in Washington are pressed for time and are constantly deluged with lobbyists and special interest groups -- one congressman described his life as “watching TV that someone else keeps changing channels.”
At the grassroots level there is more opportunity for discussion and feedback.
Each time I travel to Washington, D.C., I always am amazed at how it actually works.
As an Oklahoman, I can’t end a column on politics without a quote from our favorite son, Will Rogers, who said, “If I studied all my life, I couldn’t think up half the number of funny things passed in one session of Congress.
He also was quoted to say, “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.”
Perhaps this is a good goal for a geoscientist.