Jen Lynch, SETAC Publications Manager

For the second year, Wiley invited me to participate in their day of door-knocking on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., which included meetings with Congressional staff, a visit to the Chinese Embassy and a roundtable discussion with past and current members of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Our day started with visits to staffers for republican senators Roger Wicker from Mississippi, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Tim Scott from South Carolina, as well as democratic senators Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and Brian Schatz from Hawaii. Given the multitude of issues and events occurring on the national stage, it may come as no surprise that science is a second- or third-tier priority for most of the senators. Every office was “pro-science;” however, it was clear that priorities were varied. Some offices place an emphasis on applied science generally, or science that could be applied to defense specifically, while others focused primarily on health science, and a few did have a passion for environmental science. Our delegation, which was made up of a cross-section of disciplines, tried to impress upon them that a one-size-fits-all approach to science policy does not work. We were advocating for predictable and sustainable funding across all of the sciences. Conversations also trended towards open science policies, and a surprising number of staffers bemoaned the current process for tracking “credit,” which is to say, they criticized the impact factor.

There were a couple of conversations that were particularly germane to SETAC. Murkowski’s office has focused a great deal of energy and effort on establishing co-agreements and facilitating cooperation between scientific communities and the Indigenous People of Alaska. I was able to talk about the SETAC Indigenous Knowledge and Values Interest Group, and the staffer was keen to learn more, specifically about exploring funding options to ensure that local voices are heard at scientific conferences.

The staff at Warren’s office are imbued with the importance of science funding and have explored creative ways to maintain a sustainable approach. One such example was looking to use the fees and fines from Wall Street to supplement funds for science. Warren is supportive of data sharing but some members of the delegation suggested she could better understand the variability in data sharing practices across disciplines. Warren and other US policy makers are looking for narratives about the consequences of not having reliable funds or of not having access to data.

Over lunch, we had a call with Michael Stebbens, who served as Assistant Director for Biotechnology at the OSTP under President Obama and is currently President of Science Advisors, LLC, a consulting firm that provides science, technology and public policy guidance. Stebbins was critical of publishers, and he was rather pessimistic about the future of scientific organizations, but he did try to identify areas of opportunity. Some questions I wrote down for us to consider as a society include:

  • What can SETAC provide students and early career researchers as they explore career options? Can we help support a less linear, CV-driven approach to career advancement?
  • How can we help facilitate open science in a way that makes our members’ work lives easier?
  • Further, what does “open science” mean to SETAC members and those working in the fields related to SETAC science? Can we standardize the community-specific vocabulary around open science?

Following lunch, Sara Brenner and Andrew Mendoza, current members of the OSTP, joined us for a roundtable discussion about intra-agency efforts to manage open data guidelines, pain points and expectations. The OSTP is giving each of the 26 federal agencies tasked with implementing the 2013 open science memo latitude, but they are working to clarify what “open data” means and on giving better directions so that the data provided are formatted and machine-readable. One hurdle in open data is the variety between communities and data. The biggest challenge for the agencies is the cost for housing and curating data. Brenner mentioned that this is likely to be absorbed by agency research and development (R&D) budgets, though she also noted that this was less than ideal.

Federal agencies have often been leaders in these kinds of efforts. Standardizing data is crucial for sharing across partners, state lines and more, especially in the environmental fields. Getting published is ingrained in science – there is a process – but data deposition does not have a process. It was noted in conversations with congressional staff and again with OSTP that the scientific community doesn’t need legislation, just an open and transparent process. Brenner encouraged each of the communities at the roundtable to self-assemble and work with the agencies to determine what works best. She mentioned that the federal government had no desire to “get in the weeds” with data collection. The OSTP is most interested in finding ways to track the impact of grant funding, determining better ways to rank and select grant applications, and exploring other output measures, so that citations aren’t the primary drivers.

Our day closed with a visit to the Chinese Embassy, where we met with Xin Li, Counselor of Science and Technology, and his attaché, Yang Zheng. Li mentioned that a large wave of publication withdrawals has prompted the Ministry of Science and Technology to deal directly on establishing more stringent policies and regulations around academic fraud.

In addition to being able to hear from and share with leaders in government, it was tremendously useful to make connections with executives in other professional societies who are dealing with similar challenges. Other societies and SETAC are exploring ways to provide resources to members who want to advocate for science and watching the open data discussions closely. Working together with organizations in similar fields, such as the American Geophysical Union and the Ecological Society of America, both of whom had representatives in the delegation, gives us a stronger voice and benefits the researchers in our collective communities.

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