Published: March 10, 2016
The University’s chemistry club recently invited alumnus Chris Yarosh to return to The University to speak about why scientists should care about public policy. A graduate of the Class of 2010 with a major in biochemistry, Yarosh is currently a Ph.D. candidate at The University of Pennsylvania.
Yarosh described his early research career. He studied polymers at The University for his honors thesis. At the University of Pennsylvania, Yarosh is studying biomacromolecules, specifically proteins that bind RNA. However, despite his love of the lab, Yarosh explained, “I always had this question: What happens outside the lab?”
To answer this question, Yarosh became involved with the Penn Science Policy Group, which lobbies the government on behalf of scientific researchers. Additionally, Yarosh participated in a rally for medical research and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Hill Day. During ASBMB’s Hill Day, Yarosh learned about the role government officials play in funding scientific research, and then had the opportunity to speak to government officials about this issue. Yarosh explained that, from what he learned throughout his career, he had three points he wanted to convey to those pursuing a career in science.
The first point is that most political leaders do not have scientific experience, but that science still pervades many aspects of public policy. For example, science plays a huge role in any policy related to the Zika virus or climate change.
Yarosh noted that only two members of Congress hold a Ph.D.
“It’s kind of worrying that the people we are putting in charge have no scientific training,” he said. Yarosh also noted that many Americans are interested in science, but that not many actually understand this science.
The second point is that everyone who is pursuing a career in science cares about the scientific enterprise. The scientific enterprise consists of those who conduct research, those who fund research, those who decide what scientists research and those who decide what scientists can research. Research as a whole is mostly conducted by businesses. The government, through federal agencies, and universities also conduct research. Business and the federal government also fund most of the research conducted. Of the federal funds allocated toward research, only a small portion is actually used for direct science research.
Other portions are used for indirect costs such as publication fees. The government, both the president (through the budget proposal) and Congress (through the power of the purse) control what scientists should research. After the president and Congress, scientists (through peer reviewal) and advocacy groups also control what scientists research. Finally, the government has control over what scientists cannot research. For example, some chemicals are tightly regulated, and working with them requires approval.
The third point is that scientists want to promote evidence-based solutions to public policy challenges. Scientists play a role in policy today. For example, in the recent nuclear deal with Iran, Ernest Moniz, Ph.D., head of the Department of Energy, played a major role in the negotiations. Without his technical knowledge, such negotiations would not have been possible.
Yarosh ended his presentation by explaining how other people could get involved as well.
“If this is something that interests you, you don’t have to wait for something to come along. You can call your congressman,” Yarosh told the crowd. If you are interested in integrating science into public policy, you can contact scientific organizations such as The American Chemical Society, stay informed about current issues, contact your representatives to discuss this issue or even contact The University’s Office of Community and Government Relations.
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