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React With Congress: Be An Advocate For Science

by Connie J. Murphy, Chair, Committee On Chemistry & Public Affairs
July 29, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 30

Connie J. Murphy, Chair, Committee On Chemistry & Public Affairs
Connie J. Murphy

Today’s chemical enterprise faces enormous challenges. Even as global competition increases, U.S. federal funding for chemistry research in real dollars is declining. In this environment, it’s critical for chemists to communicate the value and benefits of chemistry for society, as American Chemical Society President Marinda Li Wu emphasizes in her presidential platform, “Partners for Progress & Prosperity.” Chemists should communicate the field’s importance to as many audiences through as diverse an array of channels as possible.

However, I would like to encourage one powerful way to amplify your message: Talk to your elected officials. By urging your U.S. representative or senators to act, you can affect the job climate here in the U.S. and the ability of the U.S. chemical enterprise to compete on a global scale.

The new economic landscape and the implementation this March of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget (known as sequestration) have created shifts in the public policy arena. As a result, ACS members need to deliver new messages to legislators.

To assist members with this task, the ACS Board of Directors has addressed the current economic environment by adopting several policy statements under the policy priority titled “Foster Innovation through Research & Technology.” They include “U.S. Innovation & Entrepreneurship” and “A Competitive U.S. Business Climate: Innovation, Chemistry & Jobs.” These statements outline specific actions the federal government can take to foster a more hospitable environment for the growth industries of the future.

The policy recommendations include establishing predictable and sustained investments in basic scientific research, creating U.S. corporate tax and trade policies that will make American firms competitive with international rivals, providing for a skilled 21st-century science and technology (S&T) workforce prepared to invent and innovate, and improving technology transfer and commercialization of breakthroughs spurred by federal research investments.

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 outreach is vital in developing the public policy of the future.

For the national meeting in Indianapolis this fall, the ACS Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs (CCPA) is organizing a presidential event at which society members will be able to develop or sharpen the tools they need to become science advocacy leaders within ACS and their communities. This training will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 10, from 10 AM to noon in room 204/205 of the JW Marriott Indianapolis hotel .

President Wu and CCPA members will begin the event by explaining why it’s vital to stand up for chemistry and how ACS members can learn more and get involved. A guest speaker will provide an insider’s view of the current political and science policy landscape. The second half of the event will delve deeper into the practical aspects of meeting with legislators. Attendees will break into groups to develop personal and group pitches using talking points based on the ACS policy statements. These pitches will provide the basis for mock meetings with legislative staff, allowing participants to practice message delivery in a variety of scenarios.

If you are unable to attend the training session, check out the resources at You’ll find talking points that emphasize the importance of federal research and development funding for a healthy economy, as well as examples of research success stories to back them up. The site will also lead you to instructions for joining a local government affairs committee, becoming a Chemistry Ambassador, and signing up for the Act4Chemistry legislative action network; tips for organizing a meeting with your legislators; ACS policy statements; and other resources.

I’ve been amazed to learn through my own visits to my congressman in Washington, D.C., that science and R&D are topics not often brought to his office. Is this because scientists think it’s not necessary, because everyone knows investment in R&D pays off? Or because they don’t want to get involved in politics? Or are scientists intimidated by the thought of explaining their viewpoint to a legislator?

If we, the S&T community, are not communicating with policymakers, they will make decisions 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 and how investment in R&D will keep our country competitive in the global market. Legislators are interested in our opinions as their constituents, and they need the information that we can offer.

My first visit to my congressman to talk about science was easier than I expected—it was a topic I cared about, and I came armed with printed data and an information package provided by ACS. CCPA and the ACS Office of Public Affairs stand ready to provide you with the tools and training you need to effectively communicate with lawmakers. Now, more than ever, it is important for scientists to step up and speak up for science.

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



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