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We Need to Talk
But we don't.
Growing anti-intellectual sentiment has pushed individuals and organizations away from evidenced-based policies. So, how do we fix this?
While there’s no single, easy solution, we do have a framework to build upon. Psychologist Joseph Arvai and his colleagues focused on improving outcomes in the energy realm, but their recommendations apply broadly in science-related decision making.
I’m not going to cover everything they suggest in a single post here, but one key point can be summarized like this:
Intentionally work to include and engage all stakeholders in policy discussions
Seems obvious, right? But it doesn’t happen often enough. Instead, we frequently seek out the people and groups that already agree with us.
I work with a lot of scientists involved in national policy issues, and when I ask them where they spend time on Capitol Hill, they’ll usually admit that they tend to visit congressional offices that share their own party affiliation. If I press them on why they’re less likely to venture across the aisle, I hear all sorts of assumptions:
“They wouldn’t talk to me anyway.”
Of course they would. Especially if you’re from their district or state.
“It would be a waste of time.”
No, it wouldn’t.
“I can’t associate with them.”
Well, that sort of sounds just a little… elitist, no?
Meanwhile, during interviews with senior congressional staff (this is my current research), so many people tell me they wish that the same science groups that speak with the opposing side would also reach out to them.
There’s a sense - particularly among Republicans - that academics frequently ignore or avoid them. In turn, many staffers are likely not building relationships and trust with experts over time. If they don’t feel seen or valued by scientists, they may not seek out their guidance on legislation.
The result is two entirely different policy conversations happening on single issues by each party across Capitol Hill. That’s bad for democracy and chips away at the ability to compromise.
Yes, I’m touching on a single aspect of a much greater challenge, but I’ll save more for another day.
Arvai, Joseph, Robin Gregory, Douglas Bessette, and Victoria Campbell-Arvai. 2012. “Decision Support for Developing Energy Strategies.” Issues in Science and Technology 28 (4): 43–52