December 12, 2018

 

Across the country scientists met with their members of Congress this past summer and fall to discuss the importance of funding for scientific research and education. These meetings between scientists and their state and federal elected officials were part of the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event, an annual event organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), with the support of Event Sponsors: American Society of Naturalists, Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Helminthological Society of Washington, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Paleontological Society, Society for the Study of Evolution, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

This was the 10th year that AIBS organized this grassroots advocacy event for the biological sciences community. More than 200 scientists, including graduate students, senior researchers, and educators, from 34 states registered to participate.

The nationwide event enables scientists to meet with their elected officials in their local districts rather than in Washington, DC or a state capitol, and allowed lawmakers to learn first-hand about the science and research facilities in their backyard. Scientists discussed the importance of biological research and science education with the decisionmakers who shape federal and state science policy.

"This is an excellent opportunity for biologists to educate lawmakers to promote science policy that meets the needs of the biology community," said Dr. Robert Gropp, Executive Director of AIBS. "Meeting personally with an elected official or their staff members is the most effective way to help policymakers understand science, including the resources, facilities and people required to conduct research."

Participants received online training from AIBS to help them prepare for their meetings. The interactive webinar program provided information about how to effectively communicate science and tips for conducting a successful meeting with a lawmaker.

Blunt-Rochester Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) learns about combating invasive insects during a tour of the USDA Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit in Delaware.

"I had a great experience with the AIBS Congressional District Visits. As a graduate student this training is so vital to the development of civically engaged scientists," said Alexandra Chirakos, a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. "We had our meeting with Representative Walorski's office here in Indiana's Second District. It is often very difficult for wet lab biologists to be away from the lab for the few days it would take to go to Washington. Being in our home district for the meeting was ideal. The District Director seemed pleasantly surprised to hear how much NSF funding the state of Indiana receives."

JudyChu Representative Judy Chu's (D-CA) staff tours the Herbarium at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in California.

"I had always understood science as impartial and apolitical, but that was a naive view. Seeing the cuts to funding and fights against using facts in driving policy showed me that science needed a voice in the rooms where funding and policy decisions were being made," said Dr. Lis Regula, Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Akron, Ohio. "AIBS training and outreach materials helped prepare me to be that voice, not just in a room with a single official, but in my decision to run for office. While the scientific process should have limited bias to the extent possible, political leaders need to have science and scientists to help make the best choices for our community and the larger society."

MazieHirono Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) planting a tree during a tour of the Lyon Arboretum in Hawaii.

Event highlights include:

  • Scientists at the University of Georgia gave Representative Doug Collins' (R-GA) Deputy Chief of Staff a tour of research facilities and discussed the importance of fundamental research.
  • Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) participated in a tour of research labs at Vanderbilt University with graduate students and the Vanderbilt Science Policy Group (VSPG).
  • Representative Kay Granger's (R-TX) Outreach Director visited the research facilities at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.
  • Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) toured the Lyon Arboretum, where she planted an endangered native Hawaiian plant, Sesbania tomentosa, in the Native Hawaiian Garden.
  • Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) visited the University of South Florida campus and engaged in a round table discussion with researchers on the state of science funding.
  • Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) participated in a tour of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit in Delaware and learned about invasive insect management.
  • State Senator Thomas O'Mara (R-NY) toured research labs within the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University.
  • Office meetings took place with Representatives Jody Hice (R-GA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH); state Representatives Gina Mitten (D-MO), Terese Berceau (D-WI), and Jim Hughes (R-OH); state Senator Sandra Williams (D-OH); and Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-NY).
  • Additional meetings took place in Washington, DC, New Jersey, Texas, Maine, Indiana, Alabama, California, Rhode Island, Washington, and Mississippi.

More information about the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is available at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html

Organizations interested in sponsoring the 2019 event should contact Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250.

The next opportunity for biologists to meet with their lawmakers will take place in Washington, DC in March 2019. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html.

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