Covering the Land of Lincoln

The importance of promoting scientific advocacy & outreach for trainees

Although academic research may often be perceived as detached from the public interest, there is an important reciprocal relationship between scientists, policy makers, and the public. In the past year, the US federal government appropriated $165 billion for research and development [6]. Scientific funding is not the only critical interplay between science and government; policy can and does dictate areas of prioritization and deprioritization, influence of stakeholders, and communication of findings. Despite the heavy influence of policy on science, the majority of federal lawmakers come from backgrounds in law or business [7]. Thus, legislators are reliant on advocates and lobbyists to direct their attention and resources, with defense contractors, oil companies, banks, insurance companies, and churches making up many of the powerful and well-funded US lobbies [8]. Communication between scientists and lawmakers can facilitate a stronger understanding of scientific priorities and big-picture issues, in addition to challenging myths, misunderstandings, and mistrust in science.

Recently, the politicization of major areas of scientific inquiry, including climate change and public health, have impacted the relationship between scientists, politicians, and the public. Engaging in outreach and advocacy as scientists have the power to address this widening gap. Among members of the public, scientifically literate citizens are better able to manage the criticisms, nuances, and uncertainty inherent in active scientific progress [9]. There is a responsibility to disseminate federally-funded research to taxpayers, as was reflected in the Biden administration’s recent policy to make taxpayer-funded work freely available to the public immediately upon publication [10]. While increasing access to science is important, interpreting and translating scientific results is a critical task for scientists to foster public trust.

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