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Step Up And Speak Up For Science

by Connie Murphy, Chair, Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs
August 22, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 34

Connie Murphy
Credit: Photography by David
Connie Murphy, Chair, ACS Committee On Chemistry & Public Affairs
Credit: Photography by David

There’s no doubt that the chemical enterprise is undergoing enormous change. In ACS Comments of the past two weeks, ACS President Nancy B. Jackson and Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs Chair Lisa M. Balbes describe how the current economic climate has created a new need for ACS members to support one another. Members can do this through the “Paying It Forward” campaign by assisting others with networking and job-finding tips (see forward). I am encouraging a less direct—but equally powerful—way to help your peers: Talk to your elected officials. The new economic landscape has created shifts in the public policy arena, and ACS members need to reinforce new messages. By urging your U.S. representative or senators to act, you can have an impact on the job climate.

In an effort to address the current economic policy environment, the ACS Board of Directors adopted a position statement titled “A Competitive U.S. Business Climate: The Role of Chemistry.” The statement outlines specific actions for the federal government that will foster a more hospitable environment for the growth industries of the future. These policy recommendations include U.S. corporate tax and trade policies that will make American firms competitive with international rivals, establishing predictable and sustained investments in basic scientific research and providing for a skilled 21st-century science and technology workforce prepared to invent and innovate.

Elected officials need to hear from ACS members now on these issues. By communicating with your members of Congress, you can help them better understand the important role that science plays in all of our lives. This is vital in developing future public policy.

During the Denver national meeting, the Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs (CCPA) and the Younger Chemists Committee will host an event where ACS members can learn how to become advocates for science. This training will be held on Saturday, Aug. 27, from 2 to 4 PM in Centennial Ballroom G of the Hyatt Regency Convention Center. CCPA members will explain how the society influences national and state policy and will provide tips for planning and executing a successful legislative visit. Congressional staff of Colorado legislators will offer an insider’s view about building relationships with your members of Congress. The event will foster networking with ACS peers who have engaged their congressional delegations via their local section and state government affairs committees.

If you are unable to attend the training session, check out the resources at You’ll find an advocacy tool kit with tips on how to use the Act4Chemistry legislative action network and become a chemistry ambassador, a how-to video about meeting members of Congress, and other resources.

The first time I visited my congressman in Washington, D.C., to talk about science was an eye-opening experience. First, it was much easier to talk to him than I expected. It was a topic I cared about, and I came armed with printed data and an information package ACS had provided. I began by telling him I wanted to discuss innovation and American competitiveness. I explained the importance of science and math education in filling the pipeline of American innovators for the future, and I shared how investments in R&D today will more than pay for themselves with jobs and the taxes industry will pay on profits from new products.

Surprisingly, my representative, who lives in Midland, Mich. (home to corporate headquarters and major research centers for both Dow Chemical and Dow Corning), said he was glad I came to talk to him because “people don’t talk to me about R&D.” I’m still amazed by that statement and was disappointed to hear a few years later from one of his legislative aides that science was still not a topic brought to their office very often.

So why aren’t scientists talking to their representatives? Maybe they think it’s not necessary because everyone knows investment in R&D pays off. Maybe they don’t want to get involved in politics. Maybe they are intimidated by the thought of explaining their point of view to a legislator.

The problem is that if we, the science and technology community, are not communicating with the policymakers, decisions will be made based on information provided by others. The bottom line is that we all need to communicate with our representatives in Washington about the importance of science in keeping our country competitive in the global market. We need to reinforce the role that investment in R&D plays in homeland security, sustainability, and energy. We need to emphasize that U.S. strength in science and technology will impact the number and kinds of jobs we have in the future—not just for chemists, but for everyone. Legislators are interested in our opinions as their constituents, and they need the information that we can provide.

Now, more than ever, it is important for scientists to step up and speak up for science. CCPA and the ACS Office of Public Affairs stand ready to provide you with the tools and training you need to “pay it forward” in this novel way to all of our job-seeking peers and to the country as a whole.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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