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Science Advocacy in a Changing Political Climate: Speak Up and Speak Well

Freedom, the first-born of science. —Thomas Jefferson   Thomas Jefferson’s passion for science is well documented.1 His published writings include important treatises on natural history and paleontology. He served as president of the American Philosophical Society for 18 years. Before sending Meriwether Lewis westward to explore the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson arranged for his instruction in a variety of scientific disciplines, including medicine, in Philadelphia. Central to Jefferson’s love of science was his belief that the discipline was the bedrock for a successful America. Today, the American public largely embraces advances brought about by scientific research. At the same time, thanks to increased specialization, competition for resources, and real (and perceived) societal threats, our discipline is in danger of straying from Jefferson’s higher ideal of science as a vital equalizing force in society. Scientists have become increasingly siloed from each other and, perhaps more alarming, from the general public. In neglecting the nobler aspects of the scientific profession, Jefferson might argue, beyond threatening our own livelihood, we serve as tacit accomplices to the gradual erosion of the fabric of our democracy. In line with Jefferson’s notion of the importance of science in our democracy, President Obama has issued a clarion call for scientists to engage the public—young people in particular. On the surface, such a dialogue should not be difficult. Federally funded science continues to produce transformative basic and translational breakthroughs with tangible implications for human health and wellness.2 For example, the incidence of heart disease is down ~68% and life […]

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