SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
13 July 2017
Volume 18 Issue 7
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Building Communication Bridges Around the Globe

Charlie Menzie, SETAC Global Executive Director

Earlier this year, I wrote about SETAC’s Voices for Science and am pleased to find that many of you feel as I do. The value of a SETAC membership includes the obvious benefits of meetings, opportunities to network, journal access and various ways in which we advance our careers and our professional recognition. However, SETAC also offers us a means of connecting with people in ways that matter for our families, our world and ourselves. Many, if not most of us, now feel the need to bridge the perceived divide that exists between scientists and the rest of society. As Global Executive Director for SETAC, I have witnessed what SETAC members are doing at a variety of geographic scales. I am very excited about our future and our ability to lend our voices in constructive ways to educate, encourage and guide, as well as be a reliable source of scientific information.

Most recently, I attended the SETAC North Atlantic Regional Chapter (NAC SETAC) meeting. The chapter is very interested in outreach and in communicating science. There was a terrific panel and open forum discussion on the topic. A list of communication aids are included on their website. We had a follow-up discussion, which included a general recognition that the chapters and branches of SETAC worldwide provide unique opportunities for SETAC members to reach audiences that matter, from school children to policy makers and regulators. We discussed the development of handouts and how best to set up meetings with elected representatives or regulators.  When Jen Lynch and I participated in the Wiley-sponsored “door-knock” in Washington, D.C., the senators and congressional representatives and their staff emphasized the importance of face-to-face meetings back in the districts. Moreover, the panelists at the NAC SETAC meeting underscored the value of this direct contact approach at the local level. NAC SETAC plans to advance this approach over the coming year, and other chapters and branches could benefit from communications with NAC SETAC.

At the SETAC Geographic Unit level1, there is much good happening in relation to the communication of science. SETAC Europe has initiated a number of outreach activities. Particularly notable was the Global Horizon Scanning Project (GHSP) Stakeholders meeting.  This is one of the first efforts to take the learnings from SETAC’s GHSP program into the public arena.  The event occurred at the SETAC Europe 27th Annual Meeting in May and serves as a model for other similar outreach efforts for the GHSP such as the one planned for the SETAC Africa 8th Biennial Conference, which will be held from 17–19 October in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. Those of you interested in learning more about the GHSP and how to bring the learnings into public discourse can contact Annegaaike Leopold or Mary Reiley. There is a need for volunteers on this effort, so please step forward if you are so inclined.

SETAC North America has organized its outreach into a number of subcommittees and activities. These range from outreach to policy makers as well as outreach to educators and children in schools. The co-chair of this effort is Paul Sibley, who has asked for volunteers. This would be an ideal opportunity for SETAC members to engage with SETAC in moving science into the public arena and discourse. Please send Paul a note. You could be a graduate student or someone that has been working in the field for a long time.  Either way, you can make a difference and should try. If you are new to all of this, do not let that deter you. This is an opportunity to learn and gain experience.

SETAC Asia-Pacific has a number of educational and communication initiatives.  However, there is keen interest in advancing the learnings from the Chemicals Management Symposium that took place in 2016. This one-day event took place alongside the 10th SETAC Asia-Pacific Conference in Singapore and was well represented by professionals from many countries. The current President of SETAC Asia-Pacific, Kuan-Chun Lee, has been working hard to use the output of that meeting to advance knowledge and participation within the Asia region. For example, a very productive follow-up meeting took place in Vietnam. SETAC members are encouraged to get involved. This could take the form of organizing meetings with SETAC colleagues, developing short courses and reaching out to ministries of the environment. To engage on these efforts please reach out to SETAC Asia-Pacific President, Kuan-Chun Lee, or SETAC’s Science Manager, Tamar Schlekat.

SETAC Latin America and SETAC Africa have GU meetings this year at which communication of science will be key aspects.  The SETAC Latin America 12th Biennial Meeting emphasizes the challenge with its theme “Bridging the Gap between Science and Governance.” The meeting will occur from 7–10 September in Santos, Brazil, and will be preceded by a one-day symposium on chemicals management. This is a continuation of SETAC’s effort to raise awareness on the part of policy makers and is sponsored and organized through SETAC’s International Programs Committee. We have invited regulators from the various countries responsible for chemical management or oversight to share their country-specific information. We then have a series of presentations by technical experts. SETAC Latin America plans to set up communication and training mechanisms to carry the dialogue forward.

The SETAC Africa 8th Biennial Conference will occur from 17–19 October in Calabar, Nigeria, and will address key environmental issues within Africa. The theme for the conference is “Quality of African Environment: The Roles of Science, Industry and Regulators.” This meeting promises stimulating lectures and presentations on landmark scientific research, professional training opportunities and lots of time to connect with colleagues for new collaborations. Our goal is to provide a forum for novel discoveries and approaches related to environmental research for Africans and by Africans. The conference will be a mixture of participants from academia, business and government agencies. Communication of science involves all of us, and the meeting will host a special event for SETAC Women in Africa. This special event recognizes the fact that women in Africa face gender discrimination that often limit their ability to reach their full potential. Women researchers in Africa need access to resources, networking and international collaboration in order to hone their skills and grow professionally. The event will create a relaxing and safe environment for women to discuss gender issues as scientists in Africa. The conference will also feature a GHSP Stakeholder meeting, a critical part of SETAC’s Voices for Science.

As members of SETAC, we work together at the macro level of our professional society or in small groups or even individually to have our voices for science heard. I am especially fond of face-to-face discussions as there is a need for many in the public to see that scientists are real people with crucial information to share. Building bridges across perceived divides is critically important. I recently had the occasion to visit virtually an eighth-grade classroom to talk about climate change. For 10 minutes, I came into the classroom via video. I could see the students, and they could see me, and we were able to talk to each other. They were very surprised that their teacher could bring an actual scientist to meet them and talk about an important issue. Even short-term connections like that can make a difference. This form of face-to-face communication is something we will pursue with the NAC SETAC chapter. We simply need to bridge the gap. SETAC offers you the opportunity to get involved in so many different ways.  All it takes is a decision on your part.

In closing, I would like to hear from you on what SETAC should or could be doing to advance the comfort, familiarity and consideration of science by the public at large and by our policy makers. Send me a short note at charlie.menzie@setac.org. If you are looking for a way to engage and want to chat about it, let us start a one-on-one conversation.

Author’s contact information: charlie.menzie@setac.org

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