The Maneater

March for Science - Mid-Missouri holds a panel discussion over issues and triumphs in the fields of research and public policy

Panelists discussed how to continue advocating for science-based policy and how to get involved in the movement.

The March for Science - Mid-Missouri hosted a panel of scientists and public policy advocates entitled “Catalyzing Change: The March for Science One Year Later” on April 24.

The panel consisted of public officials, candidates for office and scientists from MU. The event began with an introduction of each panel member and a short speech on what they have been working on since the March for Science in Columbia last year.

The discussion was moderated by Fred Williams III, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.

One panelist, Maren Bell Jones, owns a veterinary housecall practice in Columbia. She is a lead organizer of the Mid-Missouri March for Science. Jones is currently running for Missouri House Representative for District 44.

In her introduction, Jones described her educational background and talked about why she became interested in getting involved in politics, namely running for public office. Jones said she feels that there is not enough representation of scientists in government.

“These folks are making very important decisions about science-based topics within our legislature, whether that’s the state level, the local level or the federal level,” Jones said. “This is things like agriculture, infrastructure and engineering, science education, healthcare, issues of the environment. All those are huge and we just don't have that much representation in all levels of government for those trained in [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] topics.”

Hallie Thompson is another co-organizer for the March for Science. Thompson is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 4th District of Missouri. She said she shared the same sentiment as Jones about running for office, and said she feels that the responsibility for change now falls on the next generation of scientists.

“Scientists have to start standing up and speaking out about evidence and how science and policy have to relate,” Thompson said. “It's become evident that it has to be us. No one else is going to do it for us. We have to stand up and do it.”

During MU professor Angela Speck’s introduction, she spoke of her engagement with the community during the solar eclipse in August 2017. Speck is a professor in astrophysics and general relativity and the Director of Astronomy. Speck is a faculty fellow in the MU graduate school. She is also in the inaugural class of Presidential Engagement Fellows for the UM System.

Speck said that that the reason America is where it is now, in terms of policy, is because of the connection, or lack thereof, that people feel to science.

“So many people are so disconnected from how science can impact them,” Speck said. “It is our job as scientists to do something about it...have people understand what science is, how science impacts our lives everyday.”

After a short introduction from each panelist, the floor was opened to audience questions.

One attendee asked how someone can pick a topic of science to invest time and effort into learning, especially if that person has varying interests.

Jones fielded this question and said that everyone should maintain their “sense of wonder.” Jones said that eventually people will feel the need for change, and it is up to the individual to decide how to enact change in their own communities.

“Sometimes you just get sick and tired of being sick and tired, and whether that's you go and take more of an activist role, you go on to help policy or you’re going to the legislator, just keep what you are passionate about in the forefront because it’s not always easy,” Jones said.

The next question asked how to continue the momentum of a movement and advocate for change. Last year on Earth Day, nearly 2000 people in the Columbia area participated in the Mid-Missouri March for Science, according to the March for Science - Mid-Missouri Facebook page. This year, there was not a March for Science held in Columbia.

Matt McCune, visiting researcher at MU, responded to the question of maintaining momentum. McCune received his Doctorate in Physics from MU in 2016, and is a lead organizer for March for Science Mid-Missouri.

McCune said that people who want to get involved should look in their community for other events that are already happening to advocate for a change.

“You don’t need to create new events; they already exist,” McCune said. “You just need to get involved. You need to show up and you need to talk in public. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

An elementary school teacher in the crowd asked how to plug teaching and advocating for science into her everyday life.

Karl Skala, Third Ward City Councilman in Columbia, offered to put her in contact with a member of local government to discuss teaching aids.Skala is also a National League of Cities University Leadership Fellow and is a past president of the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition.

Skala said there is a great need, even in local government, for people with backgrounds in science to fix real-world issues.

“There are very tangible things that occur when you have these synergies between politics and science,” Skala said. “When it comes to landfill issues or drinking water issues, those kinds of things are very tangible, very practical and very important.”

The discussion ended with a brief conclusion from each of the panelists.

Jones used the interstate highway system and the United States going to the moon as examples of how tasks can get accomplished if people put forth the effort. She said that scientists need to take the lead role in these endeavors to create real change in the world.

“When America and when Missouri puts their mind to something, we can make it happen,” Jones said. “As scientists, we’re the innovators so we need to be the ones stepping forward and saying ‘hey, we can make this happen.’”

Edited by Morgan Smith | mosmith@themaneater.com

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