ASM Action Alert: Federal Funding for Science…… in Jeopardy.(UPDATED)

I’m delighted that the to A2 or not to A2 bomb in my last post is generating so much discussion all over the blogosphere. It is obvious that people have strong opinions about this subject in one direction or another, but I hope that most everyone agrees that there is a problem. The problem is bigger than A1 vs. A2- it is a problem of shrinking total dollars, and how those total dollars are going to be distributed for the research enterprise.

One thing that I have very much appreciated in all of this is the call to activism for us basic scientists. In my daily life I’m an activist for all kinds of things, science education, public education in general, the death penalty (against), equal rights, a woman’s right to choose… but in the course of my career I think I’ve been very lax about activism that could benefit academic science. I can’t remember having lobbied my congress person about a topic related to my research career or research funding… like… ever.

I recognize that I am late to the game- but this seems like a do or die moment for all of us who run labs supported by federal tax dollars- so I’ll start right here with this plea from ASM (American Society for Microbiology) to contact my congressional representatives. I will contact them both by phone and by email, and I challenge you to do the same.

UPDATE: The gorgeous and talented Isis has posted a similar call to action at her blog today as well.

Action Alert: Federal Funding for Science and
Public Health Programs in Jeopardy

Dear Colleague:

Federal funding for science and public health programs is in jeopardy as Congress begins the budget process to reduce federal spending for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.The House of Representatives is expected to consider later this week an FY 2011 funding bill (HR 1) that would make major cuts in science and public health programs.If these cuts are enacted, they will have an extremely negative impact on science and public health programs in the United States.

It is very important that Members of Congress hear from their constituents about the adverse impact of reducing federal funding for science and pubic health programs at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Energy Science Office and the Environmental Protection Agency. We ask that you contact your congressional delegation now to oppose draconian cuts to federal funding for science and public health programs.

A draft letter, which you can edit and personalize, and talking points to help you make the case for science and public health programs supported by federal funding are available on the ASM’s Legislative Action Center website.We urge you to personalize your communications and describe in personal terms how federal funding impacts your research, your institution and your community. Personal stories resonate most with policymakers.

In the coming days, we urge you to do the following, if possible:

* Call your congressional delegation in both their local and Washington offices
* Visit your elected officials’ district offices or scheduled Town Hall meetings
* Send a personalized email to your congressional delegation

The time to act is now. Please contact your Congressional delegation to reject deep reductions in federal budgets for science and public health programs.

Go to the ASM’s Legislative Action Center to send a message < <>>.The ASM has provided you with a draft message that you can edit with specific examples of how federally funded research benefits you, your community and the world.There are also talking points that you can reference in your message.Please add state, district, or institutional specific data that highlight the importance of federally funded research and public health programs.

President Obama released his FY 2012 budget proposal on February 14. The House of Representatives’ action on the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) is the first step in the budget process that will play out in the coming months. The ASM web site will have budget and appropriation highlights as they become available: < <>>.

Thank you for your support.

Bonnie Bassler, Ph.D., President, ASM

Roberto Kolter, Ph.D., Chair, Public and Scientific Affairs Board


An Open Letter

Dear Persistent Administrative Assistant (in department I have no relationship with):

Sorry it took me (2 whole days) so long to answer your email.  I looked at my calendar and am not able to meet with your faculty candidate on Monday afternoon as you requested in your first email, because I have a previously scheduled meeting. I am also not able to meet with your faculty candidate, whose CV I have now looked at and that has no cross-over with my work AT ALL, on Monday morning as requested in your second email- because that is when we have lab meeting. I do not know the candidate, I know nothing about your search, I am not affiliated with your department and I have no idea why you are asking me to meet with this person. So, I guess that answers your third email – I have no time on my schedule on Tuesday to meet with this candidate.

My apologies for being cranky, I’ll have to learn to be more direct so we don’t get three emails in next time.


No it’s not the history, it’s the missed opportunity…(Updated)

I haven’t stepped out into many blog controversies lately, but looking through all the stuff in my Google reader this morning I found this really excellent post from Tara at Aetiology, further commenting on this post by Dr. Hgg, and yet a third post from Sheril on her blog.

All this text is about a new book out ‘The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing‘…ala Dawkins, and the current subject of all of these fine posts is that out of the 83 excerpts in the book- only 3 are written (actually 2 are written and 1 is co-written) by women. Hmmmm, surely there are a few more fine science writers out there who are women…. and why are they missing?!

Well, one can always say that the contents of this book are the top choices reflect the preferences of one individual, one very learned and powerful individual, one individual that would be excellent to have as an *active* advocate for women in science, Sir Richard Dawkins. Dr. Dawkins actually responded to a comment by Ed Yong on Sheril’s post:

“There is certainly no shortage of excellent female science writers to choose from. One of them writes this blog. Others are linked to in this very post. Olivia Judson, Deborah Mackenzie, Virginia Hughes, Natasha Loder, Linda Geddes, I could go on. Their skill is equal to and often superior to their male peers. . . . You’d be insane to argue that the 83 pieces in this tome are the best 83 articles written in 2008.” (Yong)

2008? Who said anything about 2008? This anthology goes back a hundred years, and not a single contribution is as recent as 2008. It is not an anthology of “science writing”, such as would indeed include Olivia Judson and the other admirable science writers whom you list. It is a collection of writing by good scientists, many of them dead and very distinguished. I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists. Presumably for other reasons, it is a regrettable fact that the great majority of distinguished scientists of the past 100 years, as measured by Nobel Prizes, Fellowships of the Royal Society, numbers of science publications, etc, have been male. That imbalance, and not an imbalance in my preference or my choice, is what is reflected in the anthology. (Dawkins)

Dr. Dawkins-…let’s not focus on the past. Let’s focus on that lost opportunity, however big or small, to actively and positively influence the future of the other 50% of the population to participate in academic science and participate at a high level.  That, in my humble opinion, is what everyone is so upset about. You see, I’m a young(ish) female scientist- and there is a high probability that your book will cross the threshold into my house, like so many of your other fine books. I’m going to read your book, and I’m going to see that great science writers don’t include people like me, hardly at all. Then I’m going to re-read your – hey, sorry,-it’s-not-my-fault-history-is-what-it-is comment up there- and I’m going to have the reaction I’m having right now…. which is- yes, duh- I know you can’t change history- but you CAN influence the future SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

See, I hope the power of this little controversy will be to highlight fact that the future for scientists who happen to be women, and science writers who happen to be women can be different but it *requires* the active advocacy of powerful people.  I’m sure you must have noticed the paucity of women on your list when you were putting your book together (at least I hope you did). If you truly are as you say:

I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists

Then I respectfully challenge you to put the ‘history is what it is’ bit aside and figure out what active role you might be able to play in the future to even out the gigantic gender disparity on display in your book.

p.s. I *truly* and deeply appreciate that much of your time is spent fighting creationism… for which, as a biologist, I’m very grateful… but I suggest that advocacy for scientists who are women (and steppin’ in to advocate with women like these achieve these goals)  is a similarly worthy cause.

**Update** p.p.s Both Drugmonkey and Greg Laden have written their own posts since this morning, and there is also discussion over at Miranda’s blog

An Open Letter to CWSEM

Dear Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine:

A couple of days ago I noticed that you posted on your website an old list of 50 ‘must-read’ blogs written by women in science and engineering, borrowed from another (?perhaps dubious?) website.

First, let me say- THANKS for noticing that there are many of us women (and our allies) out here in the blogosphere talking about issues related to being a woman in science/engineering/medicine etc! I think it is totally cool that you have picked this up- we’ve been having conversations out here for some time now, and between all of us we have quite a following. Many of us are the only woman in the departments that employ us, and this can be very isolating. Online communities, blogging, and social networking sites let us get together from all over the world and discuss relevant work and work-life balance issues in an immediate way.   Having legitimate and esteemed organizations such as yours, notice and promote us- goes a long way toward toward publicizing and increasing participation in these conversations. Promoting this venue and listening to the  conversations that occur here should spur some creative thinking about, and implementation of, innovative policies to increase the participation of women in STEM.  At least a girl can dream.

Second, I’d like to encourage you members of the CWSEM to go out there into the blog wilderness, and actually read some of our blogs, if you haven’t already. Check out the blogrolls on each of our blogs (mine is right down there on the right side of your screen!), and come up with your VERY OWN  list of blogs written by scientists, engineers, and doctors- both men and women, that discuss issues related to gender balance, family friendliness, navigating academia, grantsmanship, career development and the like. Then post YOUR favorites on your site!  Listing your own favorites will be infinitely more credible than posting a list you dragged up and parroted from somewhere on the internetz. Seriously.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing your very own list, I’ll keep my eye on your website!

Most Sincerely-