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Speaking up for Science

by Allison A. Campbell, ACS President
February 27, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 9

Allison Campbell
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Photo of Allison Campbell.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

Advocating for science with our elected officials is vitally important for the health and viability of the chemical enterprise. It is especially important with a new Congress and change in leadership in the White House. While these changes may be a source of uncertainty, they are also opportunities to educate elected leaders on the important work we do as chemists.

We are all wondering what the priorities of the new Administration and Congress will be and how a changing policy, budget, and regulatory environment will affect the practice of science in the coming years. Individually and as a community, we need to be talking with our elected officials about the critical role that chemistry plays in society, and how consistent federal investments in science drive innovation and our economy.

We must broaden our idea of whom we consider members of our core audience. Elected officials represent an essential part of that audience because they play such an important role in shaping the government programs, policies, and regulations that, in turn, shape the chemistry enterprise. They are vital partners, and keeping them well-informed is crucial to the health and viability of our profession.

Recognizing the importance of communicating science to policy-makers, I have adopted science advocacy as one of my presidential initiatives. Through this initiative, ACS will provide opportunities for members to hone their communication skills and learn how to interact with elected officials to help them understand the value that chemistry brings to their constituencies.

Traveling to local sections and regional meetings, I have been energized by the enthusiasm and interest that members have expressed for science advocacy.

Our 2017 national meetings are great opportunities for ACS members to attend advocacy seminars and training sessions. For example, at the Washington, D.C., meeting in August, you will find a presidential session titled “Communicating with Elected Officials,” which will focus on developing skills, tools, and techniques for written and in-person communications with elected officials, as well as on local section organization for advocacy at that level. Experienced ACS government affairs staff will run this session, which will also include former congressional staff members who will play the role of “elected official” for mock office visits with participating ACS members.

Traveling to local sections and regional meetings, I have been energized by the enthusiasm and interest that members have expressed for science advocacy. We must work both locally and at the national level to raise awareness of the important contributions that chemistry makes to our way of life, and I hope to encourage and help more chemists to participate in advocacy training.

I realize that developing our community’s skills in communicating with policy-makers will require ongoing effort beyond training sessions at our national meetings. One step toward addressing the ongoing need for advocacy education is a project I call “The Advocacy Toolkit.” I am working with ACS government affairs and communications staff to assemble self-training courses, informational materials, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and webinars that members will be able to access online at their convenience. This resource will have a particular focus on the needs of local ACS sections, which have a central and critical role to play in reaching out and building relationships with elected officials.

As we plan for future engagement with policy-makers, I also want to assure you that ACS has offered its assistance to members of the new Congress and the Trump Administration and is engaging regularly with members of Congress as they take up legislation on issues important to our careers, our science, and our society. The ACS government affairs staff is closely monitoring science policy developments in the White House and is weighing in individually and in partnership with other professional societies to best serve the community.

For example, last month, ACS issued press releases on two Administration policies that affect the scientific community directly. A Jan. 25 release addressed apparent policy changes that might restrict scientific communication policies and grant procedures in federal agencies. ACS asked the Administration to clarify its policy position on these issues quickly and stressed the importance of unfettered scientific information flows to the integrity, credibility, and reliability of the scientific enterprise.

On Jan. 30, a second release expressed serious concerns about the President’s executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” denying all nationals from seven countries access to the U.S. We expressed our grave concern that this order, even if temporary, could have a lasting, negative impact on the free global exchange of researchers and ideas on which scientific advancement depends.

As these recent developments show, the need and opportunity for science communication and science advocacy have never been greater. ACS will continue to serve as a source of unbiased technical guidance and scientific information for policy-makers. I look forward to helping more of our members become active and effective participants in this most important dialogue. Please contact for further information on how you can get engaged, and also please visit the ACS website to familiarize yourselves with our policy statements, learn how to prepare for a district visit, or sign up for the Act4Chemistry legislative network.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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