Beyond the Bench: The Perceived Price of Activism


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February 17, 2011 - Dr. Kathy Barker joins us to discuss culture in and out of the lab, and the potential barriers for scientists that have interests in advocacy.

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Beyond the Bench: The Perceived Price of Activism

  1. 1. Beyond the Bench: The Perceived Price of Activism Kathy Barker February 17, 20111
  2. 2. The sometimesobscure lab culture...
  3. 3. Are scientists activists?
  4. 4. Activism takes you to the realm of controversy. Data DATA Interpretation Advice Counsel Advocacy ActivismHow to Lose Your Political Virginity while Keeping YourScientific CredibilityDavid Blockstein, BioScience 52(1): 91-96. 2002.
  5. 5. There is a strongculture of activism in science. But it isn’t part of the mainstream story.
  6. 6. Albert Einstein, of course. The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evil. (Albert Einstein, 1949)
  7. 7. Are successful scientists more comfortable with activism? (Are activist scientists more likely to be successful?)8
  8. 8. Is there a price to pay for activism? • No. • Yes • Yes, but so what?9
  9. 9. The worries. • I don’t have the time. • It might hurt professionally.10
  10. 10. I don’t have the time. • That is the dilemma for every scientist with a concern about the welfare of society or how science is used in society. For Muller it was a lifetime commitment that required an abundant amount of energy, a very efficient use of time, and a capacity to endure despite withering criticism and setbacks. E.A. Carlson, “Speaking Out About the Social Implications of Science: The Uneven Legacy of H.J. Muller. Genetics 187,1-7, January 201111
  11. 11. It might hurt me professionally.12
  12. 12. Tips for political• advocacy 1. Convey that you understand something about Congress.• 2. Demonstrate your grasp of the fundamentals of the congressional decision- making system.• 3. Don’t seek support of science as an entitlement.• 4. Don’t convey negative attitudes about politics and politicians.• 5. Perform good intelligence gathering in advance.• 6. Always use a systematic checklist.• 7. Do your homework on the issue or problem.• 8. Timing is vital. From Wells 1993, AAAS
  13. 13. Tips continued.• 9. Understand congressional limitations.• 10. Make it easy for those in Congress to help you.• 11. Keep the “bottom line” in mind.• 12. Use time- your and theirs-effectively.• 13. Remember that members and staff and mostly generalists.• 14. Don’t patronize either members or staff.• 15. Don’t underestimate the the role of staff in Congress.• 16. Consider and offer appropriate follow-up.• 17. Remember that the great majority of members and staff are intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to public service.
  14. 14. Recommended best practices for science-based advocacy. Note: These are intended to suggest “norms of behavior” for scientist- advocates, to ensure that their policy recommendations are grounded in science: ie to distinguish “science-based advocacy” from “advocacy-driven science.” from “Above the din but in the fray: environmental scientists as effective15 advocates. Meyer et al, 2010, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 8:299-305.
  15. 15. A good place to start- working with organizations.Professional organizations- local chapters, involvement with section, workshops at meetings, etc.Advocacy organizations- check funding andmission, push for community opportunities.Community organizations- interdisciplinary interests.
  16. 16. Communicating across cultures.17
  17. 17. Motives? Why do youwant to talk to the public? • To do your job. • Inform. • Preach. • Share.19
  18. 18. Conversing beyond the bench • Tell a story. It isn’t about the data. • Frame the discussion. • Keep it brief. • Don’t worry about nuance. • Avoid jargon, embedded theories, and inside jokes.
  19. 19. Listen .
  20. 20. Meetings are different. • No jargon. • Learn Robert’s rules. • Be prepared to talk about emotions, personal aspects of an issue. • Cope with different formats, and a lack of an agenda.24
  21. 21. Embrace (Okay, tolerate) complexity and conflict. • You might as well- it isn’t going away. • Be honest about your own ability to accept a paradigm change. • Consider interests, not issues. • Assume best intentions.25 • Don’t take things personally.
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  23. 23. Fair Medical Trade.What Mahmood Bhutto did right:• Carefully considered strategy and aims.• Submitted Opinion paper and then waited..• Worked with the British Medical Association.• Offered and facilitated solutions.28
  24. 24. K-12 activism • Many opportunities for action- mentoring, curriculum, science programs, in-class teaching, etc. • Fraught with political and communication issues.30
  25. 25. Advice from a teacher. possible for• Rule 1- Make it as easy as the teacher. Don’t ask the teacher for supplies, or to provide supplementary readings for the students.• Rule 2- Ask, don’t tell. You don’t have to act subservient, but you aren’t the boss here. Deal with the teacher as one professional to another, but remember you are in her territory, not yours. Gloria Seelman, Student and Teacher Internship Program Coordinator, NIH
  26. 26. And for students:“For young students, racial and culturalbackground, as well as gender, willinfluence how those students feel aboutscience, and whether or not they are ableto “hear” you. It is still very possible to findstudents who believe they are too dumb tolearn science, and this may manifest notnecessarily in shyness and hesitance, butin acting out or being rude.
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  30. 30. Surprising venues. Hagopian, A. and K. Barker (2011). "Should we end military recruiting in high schools as a matter of child protection and public health?" American Journal of Public Health 101(1): 19-23.37
  31. 31. What we said:• Recruiting minors in schools is contrary to the U.N. Convention of the Child.• Military recruiting is aggressive in public schools.• Health outcomes for young people in the military are far worse than for adults.• Brain function in minors, especially in the frontal lobe, is different than in maturity.• The process of military recruiting in schools is similar to that of predatory grooming.• This should be a public health issue, taken up by organizations concerned about children’s welfare.
  32. 32. What “they” said we said:• Military recruiters are sexual predators!
  33. 33. Things I learned... • Jargon is hard to avoid. • You can be personal and be professional. • You are often heard better if you speak from inside the community. • There comes a time of limited returns. • Leverage, leverage, leverage.40
  34. 34. Professional development is changing. • Communication skills are recognized as being vital. • Advocacy as a basic competency for scientists, engineers, everyone. • Need role models And so is the culture!41
  35. 35. Know about the history of science42
  36. 36. Take advantage of every opportunity to communicate.43
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  38. 38. Be revolutionary!