Andrew RivkinNov 22, 2013

Call Your Representatives, Save Our Science

I called one of my senators earlier today. Before that I called my representative. It was pretty easy.

Actually, scratch that. It was quite straightforward. It was not easy. But what made it hard was due to me, not them. The second call was easier than the first. I intend to make more calls in the future, and I hope you will join me.

Let me back up a little bit. I am…not terribly comfortable on the phone. Like many people, I had a period during my teenage years where I was perhaps too comfortable on the phone, but that passed. Nowadays, outside of a handful of close friends and family I'd rather do my communications via email and social media and the web. Even though I enjoy giving scientific talks in front of hundreds of skeptical, critically-thinking peers, and also enjoy playing sloppy guitar and warbling in front of patient, good-natured friends, I screen my calls and cringe when leaving voicemail. I don't volunteer to call for pizza, and I certainly don't plan to call Congresspeople. That is, not until today.

As you probably know, planetary science has been buffeted by bad budgetary news for a couple of years now. My professional society, the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society (DPS) has been working with The Planetary Society and other professional societies to organize a campaign to thank Congress for past support and let them and the Administration know that there is strong public and professional support for our science. As DPS Tweetmaster General, I've been sending out information and encouragement via the official DPS and my private Twitter accounts. I took the letter templates that were provided and personalized them, and emailed them to my senators and representative, as I've done in the past.

This time I decided to take the extra step. The emails are seen and responded to, for sure. But I knew that adding a phone call would show the recipients I was serious. And I knew it would show me that, too. So I put the sample script on my screen, looked up the phone numbers I needed (submitting your message via the Society's form will email you the proper phone numbers) took a deep breath, and dialed.

My representative's office picked up on the second ring, and a nice woman asked my name. I read the script, a little more rushed than I'd like. I stumbled, recovered a bit, and finished. The woman politely asked for my address, and thanked me for calling. The entire process took about a minute, but I had registered my opinion with my elected official. It may sound a silly from a mid-career scientist who fancies himself a bit worldly, but it felt a bit overwhelming. But good.

After recovering and getting my nerve up, I made my second call -- this one to Senator Mikulski's office. Since she is a long-time, strong advocate for space science (not just planetary but astrophysics), I particularly wanted not to rush through this one. The phone was answered (again on the second ring) by a nice man. I managed to remember to depart from the script in a rational way by thanking the senator for her support, and made it to the end without any mishaps. I mentioned that I'd emailed the office a few days earlier and just wanted to touch base. They confirmed that my email had arrived, and told me I could expect a response before long.

My job is not yet done. I still intend to print out hard copy letters and mail them, and I have not (yet) called my second senator. But I have already gotten farther than I have before. While the prospect of the call is intimidating (at least to me if not many of you), I viscerally found what I already intellectually knew was the case: the people on the other end of the line are professionals who want to keep their bosses informed about constituent concerns. I hope that whether you are like me, or whether you spend 20 minutes on the phone catching up with the local Chinese take-out place, you'll join the effort and take the perhaps-scary but satisfying step of contacting your Congresspeople.

The Society provides additional information on how to call your elected officials.

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