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AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter September 2012
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   September 2012
In This Issue
 
I Got the Sequestration NDD Blues, Oh Yeah
 
Last week, President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget rolled out their recommendations for the cuts for sequestration as was required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The cuts will be largely 8.2% across-the-board which may not sound like much, but translates into billions hacked from the scientific enterprise in this country. That would mean cuts of roughly $2.518 billion for National Institutes of Health (NIH); $469 million just from the research funding at National Science Foundation (NSF); Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science would get slashed by $400 million; cuts of $417 million to NASA’s research budget; $257 million in total cuts for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); $58 million from the USDA’s Research and Education budget; and that is by no means a comprehensive list.
 
This funding is all categorized as Non-Defense Discretionary (NDD) spending and these cuts will go into effect January 2, 2013 if an alternative agreement isn’t reached. NDD includes anything that requires an annual appropriation bill at the discretion of Congress and, as the name would suggest, isn’t covered under defense spending. In addition to non-defense funded research, NDD means education spending, child care, worker and food safety, national parks, border security, and food stamps, to name a few examples.
 
The defense industry is requesting exemption from sequestration. If granted, which is quite possible if Republicans get control of the Senate after the elections, NDD spending will bear the burden and budgets will be slashed by far more than 8.2% with projections putting it at closer to 20%. That means those numbers in the preceding paragraph will be substantially larger. NDD organizations are asking for sequestration to be cancelled and a better system of revenue generation with spending cuts to be implemented. Both sides agree that members of Congress on either side of the aisle must develop a better solution than sequestration.
 
NDD groups are advocating on Capitol Hill to try to get both sides of Congress to the table. However, they are also reaching out to their constituents to try to stimulate grass-roots movements to get them to be proactive in speaking out against sequestration and putting pressure on their members of Congress at a local level. There have not been many movements by the science community to bring attention to the incredible and irreparable damage these cuts would do to the research enterprise in this country not only for those currently employed, but for those coming up through the ranks of academia and others considering going into the sciences. Consider this a call to arms: your funding and that of future scientists may be in serious jeopardy!
 
Other groups have tried to bring attention to the value of federally funded research and the damage that massive budget cuts would have on their national scientific enterprise. Different approaches have included public funerals for science in Canada and "Science is Vital” rallies in England. Protestors there sang to the member of Parliament who proposed the big slashes in spending, "Hey, Osbourne, leave our geeks alone!" to the tune of Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall and "Hey Hey Osborne, we wanna know if you'll fund our work," to the tune of Bruce Channel's Hey! Baby. How about some "If you’ve got a problem, yo, we’ll solve it; check out my paper ‘cause my stats will resolve it; Science, science baby;” a la Vanilla Ice? Or maybe "Hey, I just wrote this, it may seem crazy, but here's my data, so fund me, maybe?” If the US swim team can do it, why can’t we? If you’ve got other, catchier ideas, I would love to hear them. Some critics have suggested this is not the best way to get attention. However, something a little cheeky and a little crazy does get attention, and getting it out there puts pressure on those who make the decisions. Perhaps more importantly, it makes a statement without being hostile. One idea might be science flash mobs near state capitols (Flashmob 101). There are probably plenty of grad students and undergrads available for such an undertaking.
 
There are a lot of different ways to emphasize the importance of funding basic research using low energy methods. Sometimes the value of things isn’t clear to members of Congress, and they may lack exposure to more broadly informed perspectives. The Golden Goose Awards, for example, shine a spotlight on research that may seems out in left field but has yielded tangible, meaningful impacts for others. The most frequently cited winner from the first round of awards involves jellyfish research which provided the source for green fluorescent protein (GFP) that is used in labs all over the world for every kind of therapeutic as well as basic research. Another approach is to highlight successful examples of small investments leading to big returns in job creation and fiscal growth; the NSF grant which initially supported Google is the perfect example. Another approach is highlighting serendipitous outcomes like the development of the Pap smear which has saved lives all over the world, but not because Dr. George Papanicolaou was trying to develop an assay for cervical cancer at the time. You can bring attention to these issues by writing an op-ed for your paper to get the story out and generate conversation.  Consider even just writing a letter to your members of Congress talking about your own research and why what you work on is important. No matter what path you take, it isn’t enough to just stick one’s head in the sand because your own funding is locked down for the next couple of years.   
 
Economic Security for Women Via STEM Career Opportunities
 
Jobs continue to be the topic of greatest importance to Americans inside and out of the Beltway. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) jobs continue to attract a lot of attention because of the financial impact for individuals and the country. However, there are issues with the unique skill sets required to execute these jobs and debates about whether there is an adequate workforce to fill these positions. This past month AWIS was invited to participate in a conference hosted by the National Council for Research on Women and the Ford Foundation. The purpose of this forum was to address ways to improve economic security for women, particularly among the most vulnerable populations, by getting more of them into STEM jobs. As experts in the STEM space, the symposium gave us an opportunity to highlight some of the issues that prevent women from getting into STEM careers as well as those that cause them to drop out of the pipeline. It also provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the collective impact model which has previously been successful in other endeavors. It works by drawing together a wide range of stakeholders with similar goals, but perhaps infrequently overlapping spheres of influence, who each contribute something unique to the strategic development and execution.
 
Earlier in the month we attended a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on job training programs to give people negatively impacted by the recession the skills needed to make them more marketable and attractive to the changing workforce. The speakers examined programs that have worked within the United States, like the Job Corps and Job Plus, as well as successful models in other countries. Both of these events highlight the importance of engaging industry to step up in developing programs to help train workers.  They are the largest group articulating the need for a highly skilled, but not necessarily highly educated, workforce to fill the gaps in employment. Unfortunately, even if these companies decide there is an economic incentive for them to develop training programs, it still leaves out much of the potential workforce that also needs access to quality, affordable childcare. This is an issue for women at all levels of the workforce with children who don’t have a stay at home husband to care for them. It seems like such a small problem.  Yet until we, as a nation, find a way to address this problem, the wage gap will persist, the cycles of intergenerational poverty will continue to be a limiting factor for economic security, and women will continue to lag behind men in advancing through the ladders of corporate and academic success. 
 
World Alzheimer’s Day 2012 and the Silver Tsunami
 
September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day, although I can’t remember why they picked this particular date. However, the month of September has been recognized as Alzheimer’s month and has included the recent passage of "The Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program Reauthorization Act” (H.R. 2800) introduced by Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease that impacts not just the individual, but also those who love the patient, the people involved in the caretaking, and the American economy. Roughly 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease in 2012 with an annual cost exceeding $200 billion to taxpayers. By 2050, more than 15 million Americans could be living with the disease resulting in skyrocketing costs to the government, taxpayers, and individuals. This disease serves to highlight the crippling crisis sometimes referred to as the Silver Tsunami that faces this nation as the aging population expands and those paying into the economy have to help offset the cost of those suffering. Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are just a few other chronic conditions that are straining the health care system and Medicare and will only continue to do so as more elderly people live longer. If you don’t think your own funding situation is perilous, start considering how supporting this population and those caring for them will strain the government budget. The rising tide may raise all boats, but nobody says anything like that about tsunamis.  
 
Remarkable Postdoctoral Fellows Achievements Recognized
 
Five postdoctoral fellows from a variety of scientific backgrounds were recently recognized for their outstanding achievements in a variety of disciplines at the L’Oreal Women in Science ceremony in New York. While each one of them is an exceptional scientist, the most remarkable aspect of their work was the cross-disciplinary nature of each of their projects. This demonstrates tremendous scope as well as a mastery of diverse skill sets. The winners are Dr. Christina Agapakis and Dr. Jaclyn Wintera from the University of California, Los Angeles; Dr. Lilian Childress at Yale University; Dr. Joanna Lynne Kelley from Stanford University; and Dr. Erin Marie Williams at George Washington University.

The recipients were awarded fellowships of up to $60,000 to support their research endeavors. In addition to being invited to New York for the ceremony and reception, the winners participated in workshops focused on professional development, including cultivating scientific networks for mentorship and developing skills to communicate their science to broader audiences. Ironically, the day of the event L’Oreal was reprimanded by the FDA for over-selling their own science.

 
The keynote remarks were made by Christine C. Quinn, the New York City Speaker of the City Council, the first woman to occupy that role. Her address was a humorous and enthusiastic endorsement of the importance of scientists pursuing a passion both for their own intellectual fulfillment as well as serving as role models for future generations. Each of the award recipients had an opportunity to speak a few words about the importance of women in science and her individual scientific journey. Dr. Agapakis summed the value of this event up most poignantly, drawing on an anecdote from Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller, the biophysicist and feminist. Dr. Agapakis explained that in "promoting women in science we’re not creating a separate ‘women’s science,’ different because of our different brains, but that we are creating a stronger science overall. [Keller] writes that we should ‘seek a science named not by gender, or even by androgyny, but by many different kinds of naming. A healthy science is one that allows for the productive survival of diverse conceptions of mind and nature, and of correspondingly diverse strategies. In my vision of science, it is not the taming of nature that is sought, but the taming of hegemony.’”
 
M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
 
* Shoals Sexist Schlubs *

This past week, AWIS attended a conference in New York to collaborate with nearly 40 other organizations to address women’s economic security. The general idea was to identify ways to attract more women to the STEM fields because the pay disparity is lower in these jobs and the earning potential is higher than most other industries. As there are a lot of opportunities in high skill labor and manufacturing and emerging green technologies it seems like a logical fit. It was a fascinating discussion with passionate women from a wide range of backgrounds. Much of the dialogue revolved around identifying the biggest barriers and thus potential solutions to attract more women to STEM careers. Access to childcare? Education? Networking? Lack of supportive and encouragement? Lack of awareness of job opportunities? A sense of isolation?

Then I see things like the ads currently being run by Shoals Technologies Group featuring nearly naked women and print reading "Nice Rack” in big bold letters. We as would-be problem solvers are often so focused on what we can, within our groups, do to raise up women we sometimes forget that the problem isn’t just "with us.” But no matter how hard we work to try to improve conditions to make life better for everyone in the work force (dads do work around the house too these days, we know), it’s hard to fix one of the big unspoken problems: sexism. And sexist advertising makes women feel like they don’t belong in that space, that industry, that line of work. And why would you want to go work for a company that acts as though women are just around to be objectified? I understand that people have been using sex to sell products probably since the inception of commerce. Sure, they wound up getting a broader bandwidth using this type of campaign and I appreciate a good pun. (Shoals sell racks for solar panels, get it? Deep, I know.) But they don’t have to objectify women to sell their product because, from what I could tell based on online reviews, their products are already regarded as some of the best on the market. Apparently it’s not as much fun to advertise using your own "assets”.

Part of me is loath to even acknowledge this kind of catering to the lowest common denominator. Negative reinforcement is still reinforcement because it shows they achieved their goal of getting your attention, but somebody’s got to call out this kind of atrocious behavior. While the ads are offensive, the company’s response to the criticism has been appalling. The Miss Representation blog has been tracking the story complete with screen shots of the magically appearing and disappearing commentary and apologies on Twitter and their Facebook page. The only part that makes it funny is they can’t seem to decide exactly what type of Neanderthal (not to knock them either but I don’t think you’d approve of the vocabulary that first comes to my mind) they wish to be perceived as because they post apologies and retractions, only to take them down hours later. On Twitter men and women commented on how offensive the ads are and proposed hitting Shoals where it really hurts: their sales. Tweeters shared the company handle with the accompanying hashtag of #NotBuyingIt. The company responded with comments about how they were flattered by being called out on their misogyny.  They then took it a step further and continued to post deliberately chauvinistic commentary. Earlier this week they hosted a "Nice Rack” launch party and many attendees including men didn’t find the scantily clad women present amusing, they found it embarrassing. Apparently, many men believe they have opinions to offer on topics beyond the range of T&A.

Any success from this advertising campaign may just encourage other groups to get on the bandwagon to increase their "exposure.” It’s a shame because it only hurts companies and women. They will continue to miss out on the creative potential of everyone coming to the table which has been shown to increase the success of corporations. And women continue to see images that suggest that even though working for companies like that would provide opportunity to solve neat engineering and design problems that are intellectually fulfilling, it would probably be in a hostile work environment. If you’re a smart woman, you don’t need to waste your time with frat boys. Far worse than their tacky advertising and chauvinist posts, as leaders in an industry where women are consistently underrepresented, they are sending the message that green technology is still really only for men and THAT is an outrage. 
 
 
 
In This Issue
 

 

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