Effective science communication and science advocacy in the public arena has been much discussed in the science blogosphere. But is ranting on science and medical blogs the most effective way to promote science, especially in the United States?
I’ve had some discussions with other scientists, including blog colleague PhysioProf, who submit that the best way for scientists to advocate for science policy is to become politicians themselves. To this end, I read with great interest this morning of an AP story written last night by Seth Borenstein, “A Crash Course in True Political Science”:
Daniel Suson has a doctorate in astrophysics and has worked on the superconducting super collider and a forthcoming NASA probe. Now he’s heading back to school to take on an even trickier task – getting elected to public office.
He is among a growing number of scientists who feel slighted and abused in the public debate in recent years and are mobilizing for a new effort to inject “evidence-based decision making” into public policy.
On Saturday, Suson, dean of engineering, mathematics and science at Purdue University Calumet, will join more than 70 other scientists, engineers and students at a hotel at Georgetown University for a crash course on elective politics.
For scientists with the social and communications skills to do so, politics might be another valuable career choice that may actually have greater societal impact than a typical academic laboratory-based career.
But I would venture to say that compensation would be a major barrier to this avenue. Most states only pay their state legislators in the range of $15,000 to $20,000 (North Carolina pays $20,659), requiring that most state reps keep some other job on the side. However, making it to most other state government positions will net you over $100,000, about the average US salary for a Ph.D. full professor in an academic medical center. If you get to Congress, your salary could be $165,200 – higher than the salary for most US governors.
However, I have no idea what it’s like to be a politician. We all deal with “politics” in our respective research institutions but would it be any easier or harder to do it in public office?
But, as Borenstein’s article noted, about 70 scientists were willing to devote a Saturday to exploring the possibility of running for public office. When considering “alternative” applications of one’s PhD training, this might be a high-impact and satisfying option.