Post Tagged with: "science policy"

Is the Coop bank fishing for an anti-science cause?

The Cooperative bank has had its troubles of late, mismanagement, scandal ridden executives and massive debts have seen an the organisation that prided itself on its ethical policy forced to reevaluate its self image.

At the moment it takes a stance, both through its investments and the customers its accepts, that supports communities, tackles povety, encourages responsible financing and protects the environment. One way that the Coop’s reevaluation has manifested is via a poll (aimed largely at its customers, but open to anyone) asking how the ethics of the bank should be manifested. Most of the questions seemed perfectly reasonable, asking participants to rank various activites, such as customer service, responsible lend etc. But when it came to the questions on environmental protections, they highlight chemistry, nanontechnology, GM foods and fracking as particular worthy of a mention.

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Why these subjects in particular and why present them in such a leading fashion? It strikes me as a list of subjects that have been the most contriversial with respect to the environment in the last few years (or decades).

Personally I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Are they fishing for a particular area that they can easily fight? Afterall campaigning against GM or pandering to chemophobia is fairly easy to do without committing to anything in particular. However, making the bank carbon neutral actually requires some action. Or maybe its just a sloppy poll, but either way the bank needs to try a bit harder to come up with a meaningful and evidence based environmental policy.

By June 27, 2014 0 comments opinion, science policy

Maz Goes Politician

Ever since the budget crisis began here in California, Mitch and I have debated how we would fix the problem if we were in positions of power. While we had some pretty great, and pretty terrible ideas, we soon stopped wondering what we would do in hypothetical situations and began to wonder how we could actually make a difference. Well, we decided to begin stepping into the world of politics; hoping to influence policy decisions that affect scientists and chemists for a start.

Enter ACR 88, a bill introduced by assembly members Torlakson (D-Martinez) and Furutani (D-Carson) in California.

The bill creates the California Task Force on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education (Task Force) to promote the improvement of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education across the state. The task force would generate discussion on policy that would improve the teaching of those subject areas for California’s K-12 students. It has no fiscal impact (the task force members are not paid).

You see, currently a full third of the 4th graders and a fifth of the 8th graders in the nation can’t preform basic computational math, and US high school seniors recently tested below the international average (out of 21 countries) in math and science.

Out of this poor group, take the fact that California ranked 46th (against other states) in math proficiency and 42nd in science proficiency on recent 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

And it still gets better. More than 50 percent of California 4th and 8th grade students scored below the basic level in science and 40% ranked below basic in math as determined by NAEP.

Given these statistics, it becomes obvious that California needs to drastically rethink it’s teaching methods and policies for K-12 math and science. As energy production, global warming, water purification and other scientific issues become more common to the 10 o’clock news, and therefore more salient in the public mind, we need to also focus on preparing the coming generations for the problems we are going to leave them. Also, the United States Department of Labor has recently shown that math or science preparation will be crucial to successfully competing for a job in 15/20 of the fastest growing occupations right now.

The President is also focusing national attention on scientific research, innovation, and math and science education. In a speech at the National Academies on April 27th, President Obama promised to make U.S. students the international benchmarks in the next decade by doubling budgets at certain science and technology agencies, policy change to enhance math and science education, and beginning to allot more than 3% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development. Obama said he wants to involve everyone from governors to parents to students to help increase support for science and technology and the quality of teaching. Supposedly 5 billion dollars is available in federal funds to help states improve their math and science teaching.

This is well and good, but throwing money aimlessly at the issue won’t solve anything. Bills like ACR 88, creating task forces to investigate effective policy change and inform the legislators, are the correct first step to tackling science and math education reform.

If any of you readers live in California, I urge you to write to your assemblyperson telling them that you believe we need science and math education reform and that you want them to support ACR 88. For any of you that are ACS members, they made it supremely easy for you. Simply go to http://www.act4chemistry.org/action/STEMtaskforceca/ and enter the relevant information. They will automatically send it to the correct representative for your district depending on your address. In fact, they even wrote the letter for you too!

Comments PLEASE. As a California public school survivor for my entire academic life, I have been through (and seen the failings) of the system first hand. I have some ideas on how to fix the issue, but I want to hear from ppl not in California too. Leave your two cents on what needs to be done to improve K-12 science and math education. Move calculus to required at 10th grade? do away with optional general physical sciences and the like? make everybody take biology followed by chemistry and then physics? in that order? what about elementary school? when to start teaching the scientific method? If 5th graders get sex. ed., should they also get newton ed.?

Lets see your ideas.

By August 25, 2009 8 comments chemical education, science policy

Mitch Lobbies the US Senate

I had the opportunity to visit senate offices and speak with staffers at the recent ACS conference. The visits were sponsored through the ACS Office of Public Affairs and organized through local sections government affairs liaisons. Since this was my first visit to the Hart Senate Office Building, I thought it would be of interest to share my impressions of the experience lobbying aides and pushing policy points.

The senator’s staff are held up in a rather nondescript looking office building.[Pic] As you walk into the building, there is a security guard and metal detector setup. You place your items to be x-rayed, like at an airport except these guards are much more friendly. Oddly, you don’t need to be in the books, anyone can just walk in. The lobby of the building is imposing and there are no places to sit! There are also no water fountains! If you’re thirsty you will have to beg for water from whichever senator’s staff you are there to visit.

As I’m a Californian, my task was to speak with staffers for Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. First up was Barbara Boxer. The California contingent consisted of 10 chemists that spanned the breadth of the state and ranged from academics, to industry, to government employees. When you walk into the office area, I admired how well everybody dressed. It was not like how a Chemist dresses “fancy” (i.e. dark dress shirt and light-colored pants, whether the shoes match is a craps shoot). All the male workers wore nice suits that matched with itself, the women were dressed in a formal professional attire that I have never seen before. First was the exchange of small pieces of paper with the receptionist. Unbeknown to me, it is strongly recommended that you have a business card to hand the receptionist. The receptionist will run off and photocopy all of them and give the copy to the aide so they are in a better position to know who they are talking to. The waiting area is decorated with US flags and pictures of the state. Much of Boxer’s front office was actually covered with the names of Californians who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were then moved to a conference room within the office and finally got to meet the staffer.

The staffer in this case was a legislative assistant. From what I could gather they are on the 3rd rung of the hierarchy, if we assign the 1st rung to the senators. They report the topics of the meetings to their supervisor and the senator. As we get introductions out of the way it is clear the staffer is very confused and not quite sure how to handle us. I think she was expecting smooth talking, hard core lobbyists, trying to make a hard sales pitch. What she found was a collection of 10 chemists sitting in a room having as much a good time telling stories to her and each other. The purpose of the visit was to explain to her how important stable science funding is to research and the goal was to ask for an increase in a k-12 spending bill from 175 million to 450 million. At one point in the meeting a couple of chemists became really animated and started raising their voices with each other and discussing how California state bureaucrats were making things worse back home. The staffer seemed a bit frightened about this, and claimed she has no control over how the state legislature does their business. From my perspective it was normal chemist behavior. We will often raise our voice, start speaking fast, and become animated when we find something worth arguing about. Apparently lobbyists arguing with each other is a strange and foreign concept and does not happen in the senator’s office (mental note). I think by the end the staffer finally understood she wasn’t dealing with real lobbyists in as much as a cross-section of concerned citizenry.

Next up was Feinstein’s office. We regrouped and restrategized. It was decided that it would be bad form to argue with each other again and tell stories. This time we were actually successful in finishing going around the room and introducing ourselves. We spent 2-3 minutes each discussing how science funding has helped us develop professionally. We were so successful we even made it to the pitch. We asked whether Feinstein would support an increase in funding for so-so-bill in fiscal year 2011. At this point we were asked what the additional funding would be used for. Unfortunately, none of us knew and we said we would email the sheet in a follow-up email. We all forgot to bring that sheet of paper. D’oh! At any rate, just asking why there needed to be more education funding opened up a can of worms amongst the chemists that lasted the rest of the meeting. From any independent viewpoint it is obvious that science education in the United States is slipping. Some argued this through certain reports by the RAND corporation, some argued this through the drop in science papers from the US, others just used anecdotal evidence.

Overall,  I would venture to say our performance helped the cause more than it hurt, but it is clear to me that chemists make bad lobbyists.

Epilogue: I extracted the humor from my visit to give you a more interesting story to read. However, it would still behoove chemists to become comfortable communicating in the language of policy. The most valuable lesson I took from the experience was that I have more then a passing interest in policy, and the next time I pitch to a senator’s aide they better be ready for a well versed policy exchange with a chemist.

Mitch

By August 19, 2009 4 comments science policy