We all get asked at some point in conversations what we do. When the answer is “I’m a chemist,” perhaps with a few descriptors, the tenor of the moment can change. We may get asked where we work, what we do, or why we chose to become a chemist.
These situations offer an opportunity to communicate much about chemistry, science, and the excitement, promise, and importance of science to us. In those moments, we are advocates for chemistry. It is great if you have a planned response, but even just a few words can have an impact.
As members of the American Chemical Society, we communicate about chemistry when we talk with others about what we do. These conversations can show the importance of science in education or public policy and can also establish you as someone who can be asked about science. Such informal situations are often an effective step in shaping public opinion.
Through ACS’s core values, strategic plan, and policy position statements, we set a stage for discussions. These also help us prepare for dialogue with legislators at any level and with the public at large. These documents are developed and supported by the combined efforts of the ACS Board, the Strategic Planning Committee, the Board Committee on Public Affairs and Public Relations, and numerous council-related committees.
From those documents, and the current landscape of legislation for our advocacy, and discussions with legislators at all levels, ACS Government Affairs staff develop the priorities for discussions with legislators. We have four priorities for the current US Congress (2021–23) as well as state and local legislatures:
▸ Foster innovation through research and technology.
▸ Strengthen science education and the scientific workforce.
▸ Advance sustainability and the environment.
▸ Promote science and sustainability in public policy.
Information and summaries on these priorities and the ACS policy statements can be found at www.acs.org/advocacy. We encourage members to read and be aware of these documents.
Elected and appointed public officials often consider policies that use or affect science. It can be daunting for them and their staff to keep up with it all, and this is why ACS Government Affairs staff follow the areas where ACS members’ voices can support informative discussions. ACS staff can also advise members making contacts with legislators. We encourage members to take the online ACS Chemistry Advocacy Workshop created by ACS Government Affairs staff, which is found at the website above. The course prepares you to connect with legislators’ offices in a nonpartisan manner so you can be viewed as a credible resource.
At present, the very important renewal of the America Competes Act and the United States Innovation and Competition Act are now in conference committee between the US House of Representatives and Senate after bipartisan passage in the chambers. It is part of an overarching effort to pass legislation to guide US research for the next decade. The product of that conference committee will be the largest reauthorization of federal science agencies in recent memory and will hopefully incorporate numerous ACS priorities, including sustainable chemistry, helium conservation, and science, technology, engineering, and math education access provisions.
Supporting these acts provides an opportunity to communicate with neighbors, colleagues, and legislators about an important piece of legislation. Connecting with the members of Congress in their home offices is a great way to support ACS’s strategic plan, mission, and vision. These bills currently have significant bipartisan support; however, passage is not assured and will benefit from your local advocacy efforts.
A good way to become involved in formal advocacy efforts is through your local section if it has a government affairs team. If there isn’t one, perhaps initiate a committee. Some sections are active in this area and are happy to share their experience. I also encourage becoming connected in the ACS Act4Chemistry program at the website mentioned earlier. If you’re new to science advocacy, connecting with other like-minded ACS members can be helpful.
Virtual meeting technology has made contacting public officials’ offices easier than ever before. Certainly, a physical meeting with your legislators or their staff can have a lasting positive effect. A short meeting done virtually also provides an avenue for you to get your message heard.
There are many local and national issues for us to discuss with neighbors and colleagues. As scientists, we have much to give in quiet discussions and planned ones. With a goal to advance knowledge, abilities, and the application of science, we have many opportunities to support sound policies and benefit our communities through advocacy. I look forward to hearing about your efforts at email@example.com.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.