Neuronerds in the Mist: Call to Arms

The last thing I attended at Neuroscience 2008 in DC was a public advocacy forum given by knowledgable Washington insiders. In other words, I attended an Obama rally disguised as a scientific discussion.

Among the things said in the forum was this, by John Porter, former congressman:

“[Scientists] are the most respected people in America.”

He was saying that researchers should be having a much bigger influence on policy decisions than they currently are. He said that the last six years (which he called “The Disaster”) saw flat funding for all government scientific programs and a diminution of the role of scientists in federal decision-making. He went so far as to suggest that academic scientists should go to their congresspersons and volunteer as their science advisors. “They would love that,” said he.

Incidentally, if getting that gig is so easy, I’d like to officially put my hat in the ring for Obama’s science advisor position. I never worked for Clinton, so I think I have a strong advantage.

The role of scientists in decision making seems like it should be a conflict of interest. Scientists are trained to find out facts and report them. They are not trained to make policy decisions based on those facts. That’s why public policy is a separate major. Some scientists would make really poor advisors, since they’d come up with all sorts of impractical, theoretical ways of dealing with problems. Others might be really good at it, but would be politically handicapped by their dorkitude. Still others might be tough to vet because they might have mutated somebody.

Still, there are probably a sizeable number out there who could be very positive fighting for the forces of good in the seats of political power. I know that several writers on this site have advocated for the Science Debate that never happened. But there is probably more to do.

So, scientists of the world, this is your call to arms! Look ahead to 2012. Let’s put the first scientist in the White House since Thomas Jefferson. Any suggestions? And no, I’m not running without substantial financial support.

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