Dear ASLO Members,
Many in our community are discouraged and anxious about what lies ahead as the political landscape changes. An unsettling realization many of us came to at the end of 2016 is that, in politics, facts don’t always matter. We believe a more appropriate conclusion is that the “facts don’t speak for themselves”. We must speak for them and relay them in a way in which they can be heard, questioned, understood, and accepted. Our attempts at communicating have been insufficient. Conversations with our peers around the world indicate that the sense of unease regarding the future of science is a global problem. The simple observation that a significant fraction of the general public talks about the “climate change conspiracy” should concern us all.
Muzzling of scientists, dismantling of long-standing research programs, and threats to the peer review process, all of which are perceived threats in the US and elsewhere at present, should concern us wherever they occur. If facts alone don’t matter when it comes to sharing science, then what does? Tone matters. Narrative matters. Connecting with people matters.
As a community, we have a lot of work to do. We need to step up our efforts at a bottom-up approach to making sure science has its place in policymaking decisions. We need to explain, in engaging and understandable ways, the process of science. You may feel your data have no import or relevance, but your stories do. New social science research shows that appealing to curiosity by focusing on the “cool” aspects of science is helpful in getting people to read information that contradicts their preconceptions. We all have stories from the field or lab about unanticipated results that illustrate what the scientific process is all about. We can all explain the rigors of peer review for grants and papers through our own experiences and stories. By simply relaying the human side of science to those outside the field, we can each help counter claims of a “vast scientific conspiracy” and help people understand the process of science. For society to thrive, evidence-based policy is critical.
Many ASLO members are already engaged in policy at a variety of levels. Our own committee (ranging in career stage from graduate student to established scientist) has experience at all levels of government and in multiple countries. We are committed to continue helping share stories of policy engagement and provide tools and resources so others may do the same. Some of our plans for 2017 are below. We will continue to seek ways to connect our members who are engaged or concerned about policy, so as a community we can continue to advance the sciences of limnology and oceanography.
Staying active with various scientific organizations, including ASLO, and encouraging students and colleagues to do the same, is a positive action that individuals can take to support science. Finally, we must fight the urge to self-censor. Scientists must speak out. If we cease to speak out and share our voices, the void will be filled with other voices, many of whom have an agenda beyond seeking the truth. Now is not the time to retreat.
The ASLO Public Policy Committee: Michelle McCrackin (Chair), Michael Allen, Angel Borja, Daniel Conley, Yassir Eddebbar, Tamara Galloway, Jennifer Salerno, Lesley Smith, John Smol, Adrienne Sponberg
ASLO’s policy efforts focus on empowering our ~4,000 members across the globe communicate their science to policymakers and the public. Below are some of the policy activities we have or will be taking in the near future.
- Publishing several policy-focused articles in the next issue of the Bulletin, including “All Hands on Deck: Engaging in Science Policy in the New Political Climate” (open access)
- Compiling a virtual issue (VI) on engaging in policy in February. If you missed the broader Science Communication VI, it is applicable to policy as well.
- Creating an online toolkit featuring resources to help members follow policy news, track policy issues, and identify their lawmakers. The toolkit will launch with resources for the U.S., EU and Canada. Members with information on resources for other regions are urged to contact the policy committee so these may be added.
- Focusing ASLO Science Communication Intern Lushani Nanayakkara (U Regina, Canada) efforts on science policy.
- Hosting a contributed session on policy as well as several communication workshops at the 2017 Aquatic Sciences Meeting.
- Launching an ASLO Twitter feed (@ASLOPolicy) dedicated to policy issues. Twitter is an ideal venue for sharing information among policy-interested members on a real-time basis. Top stories from the feed will be bundled and emailed monthly to policy news subscribers this spring as part of the new ASLO website.