What Can We Do?

Last Saturday I was on a panel at the Midwest Political Science Association entitled “NSF …”  Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL) provided his thoughts about what is likely to happen to NSF funding in the House.  From his vantage point on the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology  he was able to give us some insight into views on the social sciences.  The message was bleak.  The House Republicans like science.  But science is defined as the “hard” sciences.  The socials sciences are not viewed as “real” sciences, and as such, are ripe for being zeroed out.  Skip Lupia, in his comments, noted that the social sciences are indeed under attack.  Consequently it is important that we articulate what it is that we are capable of doing.  Sadly social scientists are often not at the table when policy decisions are made.  Yet we have the fact-based evidence that can inform those decisions.

While I added to the doom and gloom, I also suggested things that we can do as individuals and scholars.  It strikes me that there are six easy things that many of us can do.

  • First, we should lean on our professional Associations. Political scientists have produced a plethora of studies on interest groups and lobbying.  Why don’t we put our research into practice?  We know that lobbying can payoff and that Associations can band together more easily than individuals.  Part of what a professional Association does is solve the collective action problem inherent in representing interests.  Jennifer Nicoll Victor details how critical lobbying was saving Political Science in the last time around.  We also have learned that we should target our friends on the hill – contributions are not likely to change the minds of those opposed.  Contributions are not likely to buy votes.  But contributions to those already predisposed to an issue are a bit more receptive to access and listening to the arguments lobbyists present.
  • Second, we need to target our audience.  While some of us have access to Members of Congress, these are busy people.  Few MoCs have the time to take my phone call or respond to my email or letter.  But almost all of us have students that we have trained over the years who are staffers for legislators in Washington.  We should use those contacts to let them know what kind of research we are doing and why it is important.  Direct lobbying of staffers (like MoCs) will probably not be useful.  Cultivating staffers by giving them some insight into our research and how it applies to them is useful.  People on the Hill need to hear about what we’re doing and why it is important.
  • Third, for those who are lucky enough to be funded by the National Science Foundation, we need to provide our Program Officers with practical, understandable outcomes from our research.  This doesn’t mean dumbing down the research, but rather making what we do accessible.  Basic research sometimes looks like it is far from practical or applied.  Nonetheless, communicating how and why we carried out the research is important to communicate.  It is especially important to give our Program Officers the kind of stories that can be communicated to policy makers.
  • Fourth, pressure our professional Associations to highlight the work they are sponsoring through their meetings and journals.  It was good to see the MPSA organize the Empire Lecture Series talks at the 2014 meeting.  These talks, by senior researchers, were accessible, characterized the field and broadly pointed out what we know.  The journals should take further steps to advertise the work they are publishing.  AJPS has taken to blogging about new articles that are forthcoming or have been published.  Most of these blogs are written by the authors, they are short and they are designed to be widely accessible.  Other journals should follow suit.
  • Fifth, authors should take some responsibility for advertising their research.  This shouldn’t be seen as self-promotion, but rather promoting research produced by the discipline.  All of us have University Media Relations.  While it is sometimes difficult to get through to this understaffed group, it is important to remember that they are our friends.  Make friends with someone in Media Relations and pitch them your recently published work.  Often this can be done by writing a couple of paragraphs and sending them a copy of the article.  They aren’t going to publicize everything, but if they do, they will work very hard to get the word out.
  • Sixth, as individual scholars we need to do more to expand our audience.  Gone are the days when we could hide behind our jargon and expect that the outside world will give us money to study what we wish without further explanation.  Other scholars (particularly those in the natural sciences) are doing a great job of showing how their research is exciting and pushes the boundaries of science.  They are perfectly comfortable with using social media to promote their work.  Luckily a number of our junior colleagues are also comfortable using social media – whether blogging, tweeting, using Facebook or using YouTube-like animations to reach a broader audience.  As a dinosaur in the discipline, what I can do is value and reward my junior colleagues for making the effort to reach out.  Social media should be counted as an integral part of teaching, service and research.  Scholars shouldn’t be told that it is a waste of time and that they would be better off writing “real” research.  Of course research is important, but so too is getting that work out to a broader audience.  Personally, I’d much rather have a million hits on a YouTube video touting some of my research, than that same piece getting 150 cites.  I’d rather see the same in my colleagues as well.

2 thoughts on “What Can We Do?

  1. Pingback: The Distrust of Science | RKWRICE

  2. Pingback: Trolling for Resurrection: The Death Throes of a Network, or the Success of Science | Will Opines

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