Monday, April 24, 2017
By Elodie Gazave
During “bring a politician to work” day, Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick '09 was invited to meet scientists on the Cornell campus. This initiative that took place on April 12th, 2017, was organized by ASAP (Advancing Science And Policy) to forge a stronger relationship between local and state politicians and scientists. After touring research laboratories, the mayor met graduate students and postdocs from ASAP and the BEST program for a fruitful conversation about the importance of science, data, and facts in public policy.
Mr. Myrick started his visit with the Cornell Infant Study Laboratory of Marianella Casasola, associate professor in the Department of Human Development, where he discussed with graduate students how infant language development -especially when describing shapes and spatial orientation- influences mathematics ability later in their life. Myrick then moved to the laboratory of Chris Schaffer, associate professor in the department of Biomedical Engineering, to learn about advanced microscopy imaging to study the central nervous system.
Mr. Myrick met a group of 30 students and postdocs from ASAP and the BEST program who briefly explained the importance of their work on subjects ranging from stem cells to particle physics. An informal conversation ensued exploring the importance of data, facts and science in policymaking.
Mr. Myrick used the topic of supervised injection sites in Vancouver as an example to illustrate “that after 23 peer-reviewed studies” some politicians still prefer to “trust their life experience because they don’t understand the scientific process”.
The audience also asked Mr. Myrick whether politicians have assessment processes to measure the benefits but also the unintended and potentially negative consequences of a new policy. Such an approach may seem natural to the scientists in the room who are used to hitting setbacks and redesign their experiments, but according to Mr. Myrick highlighting failed policies “runs against the politicians self-preservation instincts […] because our ultimate referendum is an election”.
So, what is the role of scientific studies and scientific process in policy? When students and postdocs asked Mr. Myrick what scientists can do to help policy makers, the answer was clear: “Bring the data to the politicians”, Mr Myrick said. “Every politician loves to be able to hear 'Senator such-and-such was right' about this issue”.
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