ESA Supports Free Exchange of Scientific Information and Evidence-Based Policy
By Dr. Susan J. Weller
2017 President of the Entomological Society of America
Although the membership of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) is diverse, we share a core belief that objective science is essential to the existence of a free and democratic society. ESA is a scientific and not a political organization, and therefore it is incumbent upon us to protect that bedrock foundation regardless of political affiliations. To that end, we issue this statement to reiterate our support for the independent and objective conduct of science in the United States, for evidence-based policy decisions, and for the free exchange of scientific knowledge among scientists and between scientists and the public, particularly for scientific research that is supported with public funds.
Recent actions taken by the new federal administration have caused concern among our members. Reports of communications blackouts, censorship, and targeting of research at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have, in our rapidly-evolving media atmosphere, quickly contributed to the perception of a departure from long-established federal support of the free and open exchange of scientific information. While much remains to be seen, your Society leaders are actively watching these developments and weighing options.
By their nature, federal administration transitions create a vast, fast-moving, and sometimes chaotic atmosphere. The transitions from one presidential administration to another often last well beyond the formal inauguration. Past changes in administrations have involved temporarily removing web pages at federal agencies to review their content, as well as placing a moratorium on federal agencies’ communications to the public. Typically, these communications and public resources have been restored or refreshed in short order. We hope the Trump Administration takes a similar approach as it begins the process of governing.
A key component of ESA’s mission is to enable our members to share their science globally. Free exchange of scientific ideas and evidence is our core; it is fundamental to who we are. And so we are committed to defending this mission and are working to represent science and our membership through a variety of channels:
- Coalitions: First, we are part of several strong scientific coalitions and closely align with others. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the leading scientific voice in Washington, DC. Moreover, ESA is a member of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Coalition, whose mission is to heighten the awareness and appreciation among policymakers and the public of the importance of USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grants program. We are also members of the Climate Science Working Group (CSWG) and the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF). Through these partnerships and other less formal coalitions we collectively raise a voice for the broader scientific community.
- Advocacy Specialists: Since 2013, ESA has engaged an advocacy firm, Lewis-Burke Associates (LBA), that specializes in working with scientific organizations. Our “DC ground game” continues to evolve, but LBA often serves as the Society’s sentinels in the nation’s capital. Through this partnership, we have been successful in affecting issues important to our membership, including protecting the nation’s scientific collections and pollinator conservation.
- Access: ESA supports a Subject Matter Expert (SME) and Liaison to the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP). The SME represents the breadth of ESA’s membership to EPA-OPP and provides critical input on topics such as the clarity of labels, guidelines for efficacy testing, utility of label mitigations, spray drift, invasive arthropod species, insecticide resistance, and the role of insecticides in integrated pest management.
- Programs: The Science Policy Fellows Program is an on-the-ground training program for ESA members who believe in advocating for science. Now in its fourth year, all U.S.-based ESA members are encouraged to consider applying to the program as a way to support issues and programs of the Society.
While ESA has a portfolio of activities to support the scientific enterprise in general and the entomological community in particular, individual members may want to take action themselves. Here are a few actions you can take now to advocate for your profession.
- Get involved: You can share your perspective directly with your representatives by setting up an in-person meeting. On our Science Policy website we include a number of tools to help manage this sometimes daunting process. Use our meeting request template to set up an appointment with your local Congressional representatives or senators. We have templates you can use to underpin your arguments, including position statements and a factsheet on the importance of entomological research. Be sure also to watch for the next call for Science Policy Fellow applications.
- Stay informed: Every month the Society publishes the Science Policy Newsletter which recaps recent actions relevant to our science. If you don’t currently receive this newsletter, contact the membership department to update your profile settings.
- Speak up: Let us know what you’re thinking. ESA’s 7,000 members represent a vast array of scientific disciplines and opinions. To advocate effectively on your behalf, we need to hear your thoughts and perspectives.
Science is a continuum, with each new advance in knowledge built upon the foundation of previous discoveries. The free flow of information is utterly essential to scientific progress. America’s leadership in pushing back the frontiers of the life sciences is a defining attribute of our national character. We urge the new administration, as its transition efforts progress, to respect the boundaries between science and policy and allow objective scientific advancement to continue to enhance the health and welfare of our nation.
Dr. Susan J. Weller is Director and Professor at the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, and 2017 President of the Entomological Society of America.