Last Week in Review: 22-26 July 2019
Not every week has a policy event as big as the first steering committee meeting for the Astro2020 decadal survey, but there were many smaller events of note last week. Here’s a summary.
Apollo 50: The Role of Intellectual Property in Space
There have been celebratory events for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing happening all around the country this month. I hope you got to go to at least one! There has been a plethora of those events in DC alone. This past week there was one at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to look back at the vast amount of technology, and thus intellectual property, that has been produced by NASA in the last 50 years, and what we can expect moving forward. The opening address was given by USPTO director Adrei Iancu, and he said nearly 1,000 NASA technologies have been spun off into products and services.
Iancu then introduced NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who reminded us that NASA gets less than 0.5% of the federal budget, and it best utilizes that precious funding by collaborating with the private sector. The United States is moving to commercialize low Earth orbit so NASA can focus on more distant locations. The plan, as laid out by Bridenstine, is that each time we get to a destination, we will commercialize it and move on to the next stop.
Kevin O’Connell, director of the Office of Space Commerce in the Department of Commerce, chaired a panel on fostering the American commercial space industry, during which we the audience were treated to the extremely interesting history of the integrated circuit.
A second panel was chaired by Laura Peter, deputy director of the USPTO. Echoing what was said at the first steering committee meeting for Astro2020, the panel agreed that NASA should keep setting big goals and pushing the limits of innovation, because who knows how these developments will be applied in the future. There was a question from the audience about the next generation’s interest in space and science, and how do we get them involved. The panel put forth several recommendations:
- camps and after-school programs that help kids get hands-on experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math),
- a rejuvenation of the space exploration program to the same level of public excitement as the Apollo missions had,
- a new national education act to get people enrolled in more STEM courses,
- people who already have STEM careers talking to their friends and neighbors about the exciting work they do,
- implementing family leave policies and flexible tenure clocks to help with retention in STEM jobs, and
- a better mentorship system to get those students who have made it into higher-education degree programs across the finish line.
Science isn't just for scientists. We need science literate policy makers and business owners if we want to keep moving forward as a society. The US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Space Commerce Program, gave the closing speech. He nicely summarized this event by stating that the concept of space as it relates to people’s everyday lives is changing in this new age of commercialization — something for the scientific community to keep in mind moving forward.
CAS Meeting with NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen
National Lab Day on the Hill
Zurbuchen had some very exciting information to present at this meeting! NASA is planning to outsource more responsibility for missions, especially technology development, to universities. There are four or five missions “in the water.” They’d like to see a wider diversity of universities be ready to take on those responsibilities. If you or your institution has been getting missions or had your submissions accepted, then you are in a place to help others, and you should do so. NASA will host a workshop at the 235th AAS meeting to help first-time submitters be successful. I will have more info on that in a pre-meeting policy newsletter. NASA is worried about universities’ ability to execute their assigned tasks on time. So, if your institution is chosen, it is vitally important to establish partnerships for success. NASA is also considering establishing centers around the country for assisting local institutions with getting more involved in science opportunities. However, those centers need to be able to be ramped down eventually. They would just be there to help get things started, not to last 20+ years.
A lesson from JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) for universities taking on additional responsibilities is that it’s not about having a good leader, it’s about everyone down to the techs being in alignment. Speaking of JWST, it is currently on schedule. Mars 2020 is in a similar position to JWST where it has been a struggle, but their schedule is currently in the green.
Big news will be coming out of Parker Solar Probe in September! A lot of theories are dying, and we’ve learned a surprising amount about dust.
There is no negative news for the science community regarding Artemis; NASA will not “rob Peter to pay Paul,” insists Zurbuchen. NASA plans to make use of “rideshare” more frequently for small payloads doing small science. SIMPLEx (Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration) has three finalists; NASA will not fly all three. NASA has one announcement of opportunity planned for fiscal year (FY) 2020 and another for FY 2021. You can check out NASA’s Science Plan for more information on these missions and more.
There seems to be far more meetings on diversity and inclusion than there is action. We need to start taking more steps to accomplish what has been laid out in various reports. NASA’s recommendations on harassment are out for comment. Research leaders need to be engaged in this discussion and support the work as much as possible. We should be solving the problems we own. If you see bias in your organization, measure it, worry about it, share it.
There was a big turnout at this year’s National Lab Day on the Hill. In addition to the fireside chat, there was a reception. At this reception, I got to meet Bill Foster, the only physics PhD in Congress. I saw him give a speech when I attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) Workshop in 2017. He spoke about the importance of scientists going into policy. That speech had an impact on me. I’m glad I got to finally thank him in person for giving that advice as a fellow physicist. I invite you to consider this story the next time you give a public talk: you may not know it right away, but you are having an impact on your audience, so please strive for positive consequences.
Webinar: Recommended Practices for Science Communication with Policy Makers
This webcast was hosted by Michael Todd of SAGE Publishing and is archived, in case you missed it. There was an intro by Elizabeth Suhay that was a convenient summary list of steps you should take when communicating with policy makers (PMs) as a scientist. You can check it out with this one-pager. In fact, you should bring your own one-pager with you to the PM’s office to outline your main points and leave something behind with them. Other speakers on the webcast include Emily Cloyd, Erin Heath, and Erin Nash.
The following list is a transcript of the webinar’s Q&A session:
Q) How is science communication with PMs different than with the public?
A) Well, they are similar in that they are both nontechnical. They are also all human beings, so use compelling narratives and interesting examples. If you are presenting statistics, use figures, not tables. They are different because the public is generally curious, hobby driven, or activist, but a PM is policy driven. They either have a policy goal already in mind or they need you to give them your specific policy goal. PMs do not have a lot of time, so plan on getting at most 30 minutes with them; be efficient. Lastly, when you are speaking with PMs, the stakes are higher. Your advice could become policy. So be clear, accurate, and listen to the PM to make sure you are being understood and staying relevant.
Q) What is the best way to engage with national or state level PMs, their staff, and agency staff?
A) Email is the most popular from of engagement, followed by in-person, then phone calls. However, emails, one-off meetings, and discussing politically charged issues are all the least effective modes of communication. The most effective communication with PMs by scientists is frequent, personalized, related to their district, organised, and concise. Whatever method you use, make sure you are focusing on a particular problem or advocating for a specific policy. Pro tips: line up your meetings with hearings and votes, and constituents get more face-to-face time.
Q) What makes PMs reach out to scientists?
A) PMs will reach out to scientists who are their constituents and with whom they have an established relationship. PMs go to who they know. They have informational needs that arise very quickly so they don’t have time to research who to ask.
Q) What are some of the biggest misconceptions?
A) “My PM doesn't want to hear from me.” They do; it’s their job.
“My PM doesn't agree with anything I think.” If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, so find some common ground.
“My PM is such a strong supporter there is no reason to reach out.” Thank them and show you appreciate their work.
Q) Is talking to agencies the same as to PMs?
A) No, agencies are constantly requesting input from their respective communities on implementing policies. Subscribing to agency newsletters should give you access to opportunities to advise agencies. Speaking with agencies is underrated; they have tremendous influence. They have much more technical knowledge than PMs, they have federal advisory committees with scientist members. Lastly, they are less motivated by political concerns.
In closing, it is always OK to take action even if your topic is not up for a vote. You never know — the PM could be working on legislation related to your field or might end up giving a speech mentioning your story/research. Reach out to the AAS’s policy committee. Keep an eye out for newsletters and action alerts. Take advantage of the training opportunities we offer, like Congressional Visits Day, which we will be accepting applications for this winter.
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow