Power Players: Why We Need More Scientists as Public Policy Makers


By USA Science & Engineering Festival Founder Larry Bock

The answers to some of the biggest challenges facing us this century lie waiting to be discovered in the laboratories and institutions of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But we must remember, scientists do not operate in a vacuum in such endeavors.

Increasingly, policy makers -- often working in the highest seats of government -- are playing an important role in the research discovery scenario, including deciding which projects to fund, and assuring that scientific discoveries and their resulting impacts are sound in safety, ethics and effectiveness for the public.

Make no mistake about it, these power players -- ranging from Congressional representatives to executives with such top federal agencies as the Food and Drug Administration, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institutes of Health -- are critical to how scientific developments and issues get shaped, interpreted, debated, supported and applied in the public arena.

Which is why we need more scientists and engineers in public policy roles, especially when the citizenry is demanding clear, accurate and informed voices to deal with such issues as the environment, infectious disease, genetic research, science education, renewable energy, the internet, drug and food safety, national security, and the future of space and planetary exploration.

To explore the influence that policy making is having on us all, the 2014 USA Science & Engineering Festival (the nation's largest celebration of science and engineering) will introduce audiences to some of the country's top scientists, engineers and physicians who have entered the field of public policy, and how they are making a difference.

2014 NF BIO PHOTO -- MARGARET HAMBURGFor example, Margaret Hamburg, the noted physician and AIDS researcher, heeded the call to public service when she was tapped by President Obama in 2009 to head the U.S. Food and Drug Administration where she now sets and executes policy on a wide range of areas that affect our health -- from the foods we eat to the medicines we take.

Dr. Hamburg, who will be participating as a school speaker in the Festival's elite Nifty Fifty program for the 2013/2014 school year, had not really contemplated a career in government service until medical school when she became intrigued by the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. "As I went on to do internal medicine training in New York City," she says, "I saw how this disease was causing so much suffering, and how it was disrupting a variety of social, legal, and political issues. That's when I decided I wanted to work at the intersection of medicine and social and public policy."

While policymaking in a top government agency like the FDA can be quite complex and involve interacting with multiple stakeholders, including Congress, "I am very committed to running an agency where science and data drive our decision-making," she says.

In addition to Dr. Hamburg, participants in the Festival -- including the event's exciting X-STEM Extreme STEM Symposium (April 24, 2014 in Washington, DC) -- will also meet other high-ranking policy-makers who will engage audiences in the power of policymaking in science and engineering. These experts include:


Francis Collins,  M.D.,Ph.D., Director of the prestigious National Institutes of Health, and renowned geneticist; John Holdren, Ph.D., noted aeronautics and plasma physics researcher who now serves as President Obama's Senior Advisor on Science and Technology; James Johnson, Ph.D., leading environmental scientist now directing the Environmental Protection Agency's National Center for Environmental Research; Lori Garver, noted space policy expert now serving as Deputy Administrator of NASA; Reginald Brothers, Ph.D., leading electrical engineer and computer scientist who is currently Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research at the U.S. Department of Defense; and Anthony Fauci, M.D., Ph.D., high-profile scientist and physician now serving as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and White House Advisor on infectious disease threats.

The USA Science & Engineering Festival is also proud of the positive bi-partisan relationship it has built with key policy-makers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in Washington. Over 95 of these leaders serve on the Festival's Honorary Congressional Host Committee.

These include: Senators Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina; Charles Grassley of Iowa; Dianne Feinstein of California; Harry Reid of Nevada, and Jim Webb of Virginia. And Congressional Representatives: Kay Granger of Texas ; Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia; Rush Holt of New Jersey; Mike Honda of California, and Bill Foster of Illinois.

Join us next year as the Festival explores why policy-making in science and engineering will continue to pack a powerful punch in the age of high-tech innovation. You can check the wide range of other exciting activities that the Festival and its finale Expo (April 26-27, 2014) has in store for students, teachers and families at http://www.usasciencefestival.org/

Follow Larry Bock on Twitter: www.twitter.com/usasciencefest

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