Notes from RISE Stronger S&T FY18 Budget OpEds Project Webinar

Monday, July 24th

Webinar recording link:

Remember the target audience: local newspapers' readerships that are fiscally conservative, republican and independent voters... these folks typically don't support non-defense federal funding.

Structure of argument: 

  • Congress and the President are threatening to cut non-defense spending
  • Defense funding keeps us safe, but non-defense funding helps build a better society 
  • Why is non-defense funding important (science or non-science)
  • A local example of non-defense funding includes XX (local example audience cares about) and includes science 
  • However, as a scientist, I am most concerned about what federal funding cuts to XX program mean to our XX... 
  • Why science is good for society… explain through the lens of a story, why it is important for health, economy, safety (again - try to connect to your audience here who are fairly moderate) 
  • Do some research, find out where the federal money goes in your county/state and talk specifically about what those programs do and bring; good example was EPA Superfund programs in NJ
  • Conclude: We're calling on Congress to make support non-defense funding in the FY2018 budget 

Tips from previous op-ed project: 

  • Intro needs to be short and catchy! You have ~2 sentences to capture editor to be published
  • Sentences and paragraphs need to be short so piece keeps moving
  • Narrative style- descriptive language with story; keep stats to 2-3
  • Have 1-2 other readers look at it before submitting
  • Expect ~2-4 hours to write, 1-2 hours to edit 
  • Think about where to submit…hometown may make more sense (more of the target audience) than current residence, but make sure to identify yourself as part of the local community
  • Check out March for Science OpEds for excellent examples

The UCS Letter to the Editor (LTE) webinar was put on by a former editor at the Boston Globe as well as a communications specialist from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Check out a recording of the webinar with the slides. At the end of the recording, look in the lower left-hand corner to find a link to a resource that locates your nearest newspaper.

In the presentations and Q&A, they emphasized these takeaway points: 

  • Say something new and original.
  • Do not submit your letter anonymously (if you are not able to sign your own name, find someone else in the organization who would be appropriate and is willing to put her name forward and if there are no good options in your 500WS pod, let us know and we can help -
  • Since the election, the editors have been overrun by LTE and op-ed submissions and some are not local. Submit to your own local paper where you are a part of the community.
  • Be timely. You can have the best-written piece that takes two weeks and misses the punch. Therefore, it won't get published.

If you are writing an op-ed or LTE to oppose the nomination of Sam Clovis as the head scientist at the USDA, here are some potential talking point.

  • President Trump has nominated Sam Clovis—a conservative talk radio host, Trump campaign co-chair, and climate denier with no training in science—for the role of under secretary for research, education, and economics at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The under secretary also serves as the USDA's chief scientist.
  • Congress mandated in 2008 that the under secretary be chosen from among “distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” Clovis has no such training or experience, and is therefore legally and scientifically unqualified for the job.
  • The chief scientist—an important role tasked with advancing scientific integrity at the USDA—also oversees the USDA's nearly $3 billion annual investment in agricultural research and is responsible for disbursing grants to scientists working to solve food and agriculture challenges at universities and other institutions.
  • Agricultural research enables farmers to better withstand floods and droughts, protect their soil, increase crop productivity, decrease their carbon footprint, and prevent fertilizer runoff that can lead to polluted streams and lakes and tainted drinking water. With no training in science, and with a record of climate change denial, Sam Clovis is not equipped to coordinate USDA’s research portfolio or direct the agency’s resources to give farmers the tools they need to respond to a changing climate and remain profitable for the long-term.
  • Make it local: if you know about the challenges farmers face where you live, talk about it! Here in [state/region], we’ve faced [local impacts, e.g. rampant water pollution, loss of cropland to drought]. Our farmers and rural communities desperately need research on [X, Y, Z], and we need support from USDA. As a non-scientist and a science skeptic, Sam Clovis is unfit for the task.