Catalyzing Advocacy in Ethnobotany

Written by Grady Zuiderveen

From March 18 to March 21 nearly 200 upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering from across the country descended on Washington DC for a three-and-a-half-day workshop on catalyzing advocacy in science and engineering (CASE) sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for students to learn more about how science advocacy takes place in DC, and how scientists can become more involved. During the event, there were sessions on the federal budget process and how science policy is made, as well as overviews on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and how Congress operates.

The last session of the workshop focused on how to effectively communicate science both to the general public, and the legislators that ultimately decide on science funding. The discussion was led by previous staffers who had firsthand experience in interacting with constituents that visited them on Capitol Hill, and could provide clear examples of what was effective, and what was not. The workshop then culminated in an opportunity to visit with members of Congress and their staff.

As ethnobotanists, we do really interesting and exciting work that is often at the intersection of science and policy. It is critical that our voices are heard both for the importance of the science that we conduct as well as for the livelihoods of the people whose lives our work is so often intertwined. In my own research, for example, I am investigating the habitat and chemistry of goldenseal in Pennsylvania as well as surveying regional medicinal plant dealers in hopes of finding effective methods for the long term sustainability of the species. Understanding the science is critical, and working with stakeholders is essential, but the importance of using that information to inform policy cannot be overlooked. Too often we consider our work complete when we publish our findings, but without advocating for what we do, our work does not achieve its maximum impact.

If you are interested in learning more, or even participating in the workshop in the future, check out the AAAS website at https://www.aaas.org/page/case-agenda.

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