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Local Science Policy: How Can Scientists Get Involved?

As scientists considering venturing into the world of science policy, you may be wondering: who are the policymakers enacting science policy and what are their roles? Politicians are key policymakers as they have the ability to pass legislation that governs the execution of science as well as use science to form evidence-based policies. But what is the role of scientists in setting science policy? Alex Yudelson, Mayor Lovely Warren’s Chief of Staff, recently visited the Medical Center to chat with the URMC community about the importance of participation by the scientific community in the policymaking process and how scientists can get involved in influencing policy right here in Rochester. 

In our discussion, Mr. Yudelson addressed the role of scientists in the two complementary elements of science policy: policy for science and science for policy. Regarding how scientists can impact the policies governing science, action is key. Mr. Yudelson stressed that when faced with the prospect of proposed funding cuts and agency shutdowns, it’s important for scientists to be proactive about advocating for the interests of the scientific community. Members of the scientific community are best positioned for explaining to those in policy-setting positions the damage to scientific progress caused by loss of support for science and scientific funding. An effective way to impact the formation of policies impacting science is to communicate with your state and local representatives on issues of importance to the scientific community. Because they consider input from their constituents when determining their support for a piece of legislation, the voices that make themselves heard are the ones that have influence. Regarding the inverse element of science policy, leveraging science to form policy, Mr. Yudelson advocated for recognizing your expertise as a resource benefitting policy formation. Given our position as members of a limited group of people with very specialized skillsets, it behooves us to apply that expertise in service of making solid, evidence-based policies. Politicians are increasingly trying to incorporate more data into their policies, and Mr. Yudelson points out that the increased involvement of scientists in policymaking is an opportunity to marry the influence of politics with the rigor of science. 

So what does getting involved look like locally? You don’t have to live in Washington, D.C. to get involved in policymaking. There are a variety of opportunities to interact with elected officials and use your scientific expertise to advocate for a cause right here in Rochester. Mr. Yudelson suggested that the best way to begin is to start attending local political party meetings. These meetings are attended by local elected officials and therefore offer the opportunity to interact with these officials in a forum meant for discussing ideas. If you prefer to get involved in a non-political context, Mr. Yudelson recommended that finding an issues group related to a cause you believe in and that captures the attention of politicians is a good way to advocate for issues in a non-partisan way. Additionally, Mr. Yudelson suggested that attended the meetings of multiple political parties could be an effective way to advocate for science across the political spectrum. Regardless of your chosen mechanism of action, Mr. Yudelson stressed the importance of communication. Finding a way to convey your message in a manner that is both accessible and trustworthy is critical for garnering support for your issue.    

Mr. Yudelson’s take home message for anyone considering getting involved in science policy: don’t be afraid that you aren’t qualified enough to get involved. Participation in science policy doesn’t require a political science background; the policymaking process just needs competent people. So if you’re interested in getting started with policymaking in Rochester, visit our resources page for information on local group meetings and ways to contact your local legislators.