Scientists need political literacy


  • Lynn Teo Simarski


Scientists need to sharpen their political literacy to promote public and congressional awareness of science policy issues. This was the message of a panel of politically savvy scientists at a recent workshop at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Researchers can maximize their lobbying efforts by targeting critical points of the legislative and federal funding cycles, the panel said, and by understanding the differences between the science and policy processes.

Drastic modifications to the federal budget process this year will influence how much funding flows to research and development. A new feature for FY 1991–1993 is caps on federal expenditure in three areas: defense, foreign aid, and domestic “discretionary” spending. (Most of the agencies that fund geophysics fall into the domestic category.) Money cannot now be transferred from one of these areas to another, said Michael L. Telson, analyst for the House Budget Committee, and loopholes will be “very tough to find.” What is more, non-defense discretionary spending has dropped over a decade from 24% of the budget to the present 15%. Another new requirement is the “pay-as-you-go” system. Under this, a bill that calls for an increase in “entitlement” or other mandatory spending must offset this by higher taxes or by a cut in other spending.