15 December 2009

Capitol Hill Needs Earth Scientists

Posted by Michael McFadden

Many scientists believe it’s not their place to become involved in public policy.  However, I would strongly disagree with that notion, especially since many of the critical issues facing society today, such as climate, energy, and water resources, have strong science components.  Furthermore, most policymakers are starved for scientific knowledge and want to know how the latest research affects their district.

Diagram of

Diagram of “Communicating with Congress” Workshop by Julie Stuart of Making Ideas Visible

During yesterday’s workshop, entitled Communicating with Congress, Susan Joy Hassol encouraged scientists to become more involved.  She taught participants how to form an effective message when speaking with their legislators. One of the great things about Susan’s talk was that she didn’t just speak in generalizations. Instead, she got down to the nitty gritty by emphasizing points like the importance of not using jargon, such as words like “anthropogenic” or “temporal”, and entirely eliminating those words that have very different connotations to the public, such as “theory” and “error.”  In fact, speaking in terms of “confidence” (instead of “error”) to a lay audience, in my experience on Capitol Hill, is a much more effective way to convey a message.  Participants in the workshop told me they felt Hassol’s talk was very constructive and one of the better communications workshops they’ve attended in years.  That would explain why it was standing room only!

Susan Joy Hassol speaking at the

Susan Joy Hassol, Speaking at the “Communicating With Congress” workshop

AGU’s Senior Public Affairs Coordinator, Elizabeth Landau, also discussed the public policy programs AGU offers, including Congressional Visits Day and the Congressional Science Fellowship.  There are many ways to become involved and to offer yourself as an expert in your field of research to elected officials, whether it’s at the local, state, or federal level.

Today, AGU will host a luncheon that will discuss the Congressional Science Fellowship and Mass Media Fellowship programs in Moscone South 270-272 from 12:30P-1:30P. The Congressional Science Fellowship program places highly qualified, accomplished scientists, engineers, and other professionals in the offices of either an individual Member of Congress or a Congressional committee for a one-year assignment. You can apply online now through 1 February 2010.  If you come to the luncheon, you can hear first-hand from the two most recent AGU Congressional Science Fellows, Maggie Walser and Maeve Boland. And you can eat some free food!

–Kaitlin Chell, AGU Public Affairs Coordinator, [email protected]