One summer, midway through my Ph.D., I traveled to to Washington D.C. to meet with individuals who had started as scientists in academia (e.g., graduate students, techs, instructors) and then made the transition to science policy (e.g., gov’t, NGO’s). The reason for my visit was to get the perspective of those that started in research and ended in policy. Coming from a strict science-only background, I had no perspective of what, if any, difference my research was making when it came to policy/management decisions. What I learned at these meetings, while not surprising, was disheartening.
There exists a great divide between research scientists and science-policy makers. In my own experience, scientists are exceedingly hesitant to translate their science for a broader audience to understand (see Communication and Outreach). Unfortunately, this resistance results in individuals (usually with little or no scientific background) being left with the responsibility of translating science to policy. My question is: Why do non-scientists hold this responsibility when they themselves are those non-science types?
Instead of complaining about how those responsible for molding science policy weren’t doing it right, I decided to actually do something about it. I became a Dean John A. Knauss Science Policy Fellow. This “policy postdoc” took me out of my comfort zone as a research scientist and placed me in an office that act as liaisons between the agency and Congress. I quickly learned that most scientists would actually be appalled with how little science goes into decision-making. However, the experience has just furthered my resolve that no matter the potential impact, big or small, scientists must understand that in order for their work to make a difference, they must do more than just publish and move on. I’m not saying that a science policy fellowship is necessary, but passive science isn’t the answer either.