By Marianne Alleyne, Ph.D., and Leellen Solter, Ph.D.
On a cloudy day in April, these two long-time friends set out on a journey from Central Illinois to Washington, DC. Road trip! The reason for the trip was, of course, to participate in the March for Science, but during the journey we covered many topics: our personal lives, our love for nature, our work in science, our service to our institutions, and how all these aspects of our lives intersect. Despite the day-long rain, we had blast at “The March.” We felt invigorated by the positive energy and drove home more hopeful about the future. Images from less rainy marches from around the world shared via social media were also an inspiration. On our return trip we dedicated ourselves to being more vocal about the inherent value of science to all people.
The importance of science to the global community is obvious to those of us who work in scientific disciplines, but, as the past year has shown, it is not necessarily apparent to others that science affects nearly every aspect of our lives. Scientists need to be involved in the public arena to not only emphasize facts versus untested opinion but also to explain how the scientific effort aims to elucidate facts, even when it stumbles along the way. Science should not be partisan, but it is necessarily political. It is essential to the well-being of the global population and our environment that the scientific enterprise has a significant role in developing and enacting sound policy. In addition, science needs to be inclusive to ensure that all populations in all areas of the world are participating in and benefiting from scientific research.
When people—whether they are politicians, journalists, or anyone using social media—distort or suppress scientific data to make decisions that are contrary to research results, we are obligated to insist on the truth. Scientists need to speak out openly and as accurately as our knowledge allows about the challenges we face as a society. We need to support scientists who are willing to serve in public office, and we also need to involve non-scientists in our activism. Science is important to everyone, and if we have failed as scientists, it is by failing to sufficiently integrate our knowledge and, importantly, how that knowledge is generated, into the lives of the public.
The Entomological Society of America is a very diverse professional society, but the membership can surely agree that the best science should drive policy decisions. Pseudoscience, or arguments meant to obfuscate established facts, should never be treated as coequal to legitimate science.
As individual scientists, we can become overwhelmed by all the arenas that need our expertise, but ESA can serve as a hub through which individuals with different interests and a multitude of experiences can guide various efforts. Starting at the local level can be very effective. For example, the authors live in a geographical area that depends on sound entomological science to maintain profitability in agriculture and keep humans and natural areas healthy, yet the importance of entomology research does not always reach the voters or state and federal representatives. However, multiple small collaborations in our area are reaching out to stakeholders including farmers, hunters, park users, and others to explain the importance of topics as varied as pollinator services, arthropod-borne diseases, pest resistance management, and biodiversity. Again, ESA can serve as the organization where we can share experiences and learn from them.
What immediate goals might individual scientists, and the Entomological Society as a whole, strive to achieve?
- Identify the topics that you are most passionate about—topics that highlight your expertise or topics that you think are most important. Put your energy into advocacy that is close to your heart, because generating and protecting excellent science is a perpetual concern in human society.
- We need to do a better job connecting entomological science to the health and economic status of citizens. It is essential to consider how we can best communicate science. Many ESA members are very talented at engaging the general public. We should celebrate their efforts and learn from them. Established scientists need to speak up. We are fighting for the futures of researchers and their ability to openly communicate the results of their research. Times have changed; if we do not stand up for ourselves and other scientists, then we will not be included in the discussion when decisions are made.
- Oppose cuts to USDA, EPA, NIH, NSF and other federal and state agencies that affect entomologists and other scientific disciplines. Scientific research and its applications cannot be accomplished without funding. Explain to your state and federal representatives how our research benefits food security, energy independence, public health, anthropogenic effects on biodiversity, and habitat resilience on behalf of their constituents. ESA, its Science Policy Fellows, and the ESA Science Policy Committee can help you begin. Just reach out! (Learn more at www.entsoc.org/policy-initiatives)
Science advocacy will not damage the credibility of scientists as long as we communicate facts and don’t overpromise the meaning and outcomes of our findings, since doing so erodes our most valuable capital: trust in science and scientists. The scientific community is well positioned to make decisions that are evidence-based, protect scientific integrity, and give the public access to results of our work. We need to use this experience to defend the role of science.
Only if we all work together—scientists, science communicators, educators, stakeholders—to share our stories and work with elected officials will policies be developed that are based on sound science and fiscal responsibility. Only then will we be able to stamp out the insidiousness of pseudoscience and untested opinion. There were many participants in the march in Washington, DC, and in marches across the globe who are not scientists but are engaged and active citizens. We are not alone!
Marianne Alleyne, Ph.D. is a research scientist in the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a member of the 2014 class of ESA Science Policy Fellows. Twitter: @Cotesia1. Email: email@example.com.
Leellen Solter, Ph.D., is an insect pathologist and interim director at the Illinois Natural History Survey, part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org