What Are Your Science Policy Priorities?

by Jamie Vernon | Nov 20, 2019

Ariana Sutton-Grier

Sigma Xi 2019 Young Investigator Award recipient Ariana Sutton-Grier spoke on November 16 at the Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, about natural climate solutions and the critical role researchers can play in informing policy makers. (Ruthie Hauge Photography)


Jamie Vernon I had a front-row seat last week as Sigma Xi’s 2019 Young Investigator Award winner and member, Ariana Sutton-Grier of the University of Maryland, College Park, described a piece of the puzzle to fight climate change that is already at our feet, if only those with decision-making power decide to manage it properly. 

She investigates natural climate solutions, such as coastal wetlands that can sequester carbon. Forests, agricultural lands, and grasslands also hold opportunities. If the United States implemented all practices where nature could help reduce carbon dioxide, we could sequester approximately 21 percent of the country’s annual emissions. 

Dr. Sutton-Grier spoke passionately about putting natural climate change solutions into action, and she took it one step further. As we begin to see the effects of climate change in our lifetime, she reminded us that we are not only scientists and engineers. We also have the right to let our elected leaders know what we want to see from their votes. 

At the end of her talk, she urged the U.S.-based Sigma Xi members and students to become active science advocates and to contact their representatives on the issues they care about. Legislators focus on the concerns of their constituents, and they find out what we care about only when we tell them directly. For the international citizens in the room, she urged them to get involved in their governments. 

As someone who has worked in Washington, DC, I know that those of us in the research community have an important role to play in providing credible scientific information to our policy makers. Most people in Congress are not scientists or engineers. We can and should provide context and guidance on complex issues to ensure their decisions are informed by evidence. 

I’m happy to report that last year President Donald Trump appointed a Sigma Xi member as the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, Kelvin Droegemeier, and has formally re-established the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Those are steps in the right direction, and we need more scientific voices involved in government to elevate the scientific evidence where and when it is relevant. 

Think about the major issues of our time: gun safety, nuclear safeguards, microplastics, antibiotic resistance, clean drinking water, the obesity and opioid epidemics, just to name a few. Research will bring solutions. Research, and the communication of that research, is what we need. 

In addition to using scientific evidence to inform policy decisions, legislators and executive branch leadership must also think about the policies that affect the way science is conducted. Funding levels, scientific integrity, and STEM education stand out as key policy areas that would benefit from greater scientific participation. These issues cannot be adequately addressed by policymakers without input from practicing scientists and engineers.  

As executive director and CEO, I’d like to know your science policy priorities, what you have done or would be willing to do to advocate for science, and the kind of role you think Sigma Xi should play to make the biggest difference. What specific policy issues are you most concerned about? 

Here are some recent examples from Duke University’s Initiative for Science and Society:

Please comment below or contact me at executiveoffice@sigmaxi.org

Jamie Vernon signature
Jamie L. Vernon
Executive Director and CEO, Sigma Xi
Publisher, American Scientist


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