We live now in a polarizing environment where many people can't agree on issues that may seem obvious for the greater good, and part of that is likely due to a mistrust of scientists depending on one's education level and political leanings (probably the most diplomatic way I can phrase this). Science has brought us many wonders, from faster transportation, to lifesaving medicines, to the devices you are using to read this right now. Science also works to continue building our knowledge base, and perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is the banning of leaded gasoline, highlighted in an amazing episode of Cosmos hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Because proper regulation is needed to keep both society and science in check, I thought today we would explore how science works with the law to ensure a brighter future for humanity.
Reaching Out to Lawmakers
Having survived (mostly) the brunt of a global pandemic, it goes without saying that there was a major lapse in effective communication that could have saved even more lives and quelled the spread of a deadly illness in a shorter time frame. As humans, even as scientists, we all have an agenda that will affect how we use the evidence presented to us either through direct experimentation or communication via seminar, reports, or testimony, but ultimately most of us want to do what is best to serve society at large. I guess the trick is to present data in a such a way that will mesh with the legislators' agendas to maximize the chances for ratification. Very rarely do you see PhD level scientists elected to Congress, like Congressman Bill Foster from the district just west of where I used to live in Chicago. You can read on his page the various science-associated resolutions he has championed to highlight achievements and promote research into various topics including climate change. Having more leaders who understand the importance of science, science literacy, and adequate research funding can really help improve our standard of living.
Part of effective communication is to translate information into a format that is easily digestible by non-scientists, which describes that audience comprised of most of our fellow citizens, legislators, and judges. The rare scientist-legislator like Congressman Foster can certainly help in that arena, but it also makes sense for science lobbyists to employ more effective strategies to deliver good science to the people in charge. A recent study in PNAS led by researchers from Penn State suggested a network of real-time support for lawmakers in which the unit, known as Research-to-Policy Collaboration (RPC), would assess the goals of the policymakers before forming an expert panel of researchers to rapidly engage with those lawmakers to provide the appropriate evidence to shape the final policy. While this study was done in the context of child and family policies, it appears easily translatable to other disciplines, including addressing critical topics such as sustainability measures and addressing climate change.
Direct Involvement in Policymaking
As an alumnus of the University of Chicago's Biological Science Division programs, I receive a monthly magazine highlighting the research and accomplishments of other alumni and former classmates. I was pleased to see one of my classmates, Dr. Sapana Vora, highlighted in this month's issue. Sapana was a couple years behind me in the cancer biology program and actually worked in the lab of one of my thesis committee members. Like me, she has since left the laboratory and become a senior policy advisor for the United States Department of Defense. As part of the DoD, Sapana gets to be a literal superhero as she helps to assess global threats of biological weapons and to work towards preventing the spread of these weapons, especially with ongoing global conflicts.
I briefly considered trying this after I was done with public school education, but family and financial obligations had other ideas and I am of course grateful for the path I am in. However, I wanted to highlight the AAAS program that supports fellowships in science and technology, which places motivated and talented people with scientific training in contact with federal policymakers, and can eventually lead to a career in science policy like Sapana has achieved. It's a bit too late for me, but perhaps you can still get involved in directing effective science policy and become the next great superhero to help safeguard society from disease and natural disasters!
BioChat: Getting Involved With Legal Practice
Going off today's topic about science and the law, in this episode, I speak with my friend Nate Luman, Ph.D., J.D., who is a practicing patent attorney at the law firm of Knobbe Martens. Nate and I were at Duke University together in our youth, and kept in touch ever since to hang out whenever he was in town. I left Duke University with a master's degree before returning to graduate school later, while Nate finished his thesis work and decided to pursue a career in the law doing patent agent work before going into law school to become a lawyer.
In this BioChat episode, we discuss:
- Nate's work in biological chemistry to develop biopolymers for medical applications;
- How Nate decided to work for a law firm and how he advanced from patent agent to full attorney;
- How Nate uses his advanced chemistry knowledge in service of clients in contracts and trials;
- The every day happenings in the law that might not match what you see in the movies
Nate suggests this book for folks who want to explore alternative careers that can benefit from a science background. Nate has also graciously offered to talk to anyone who might be interested in transferring their skills to a career in the law, so feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com and we will get you in touch with Nate.
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