Getting it across

Scientists need a carefully crafted strategy to catch the attention of policy-makers. David Goldston explains.

Scientists often think of the US Congress as a kind of impenetrable fortress in a foreign land, nearly impossible to fathom or infiltrate. But a better analogy is something more familiar to researchers — a semi-permeable membrane. The passage of ions through such a membrane depends on concentration, temperature and pressure. The same can be said about the way Congress absorbs ideas.

This occurred to me last month when a House of Representatives committee approved a bill to promote and coordinate research on ocean acidification. A Senate committee had already approved a version of the measure, and provisions on ocean acidification were also included in the 2006 rewrite of the primary US fisheries law and in the leading climate-change bill, which the Senate killed last month. How did Congress (or at least elements of it) come to care about an issue that was barely a blip on the scientific radar screen five years ago?

The answer includes concentration (figuring out how to make the issue more potent), temperature (turning up the heat on the issue through the media) and pressure (pushing selected members of Congress and their staffs).

David Goldston, Nature News, 2 July 2008. Article.

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