Press Release

U.S. Astronomers Make Case for Science on Capitol Hill

By SpaceRef Editor
April 23, 2012
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Fifteen members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are traveling to Washington, DC, April 24-25 to thank Congress for recent appropriations in the fiscal year 2013 spending bill and to express the need for continued federal funding of research and development (R&D) programs, which are critically important to American economic growth.

The delegation is part of a group of more than 200 scientists, engineers, and business leaders converging on Capitol Hill for the 17th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD), sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group. CVD is coordinated by coalitions of companies, professional societies, and educational institutions whose members feel strongly that science and technology comprise the cornerstone of our nation’s future.

“This is one of the largest groups of astronomers we’ve ever had participating in CVD,” notes Dr. Bethany Johns, the AAS’s John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow. “The high turnout reflects the American astronomical community’s strong appreciation of the federal government’s support for what we do.”

While visiting congressional offices, CVD participants will discuss the importance of the nation’s broad portfolio of investments in science, engineering, and technology to promoting U.S. prosperity and innovation. Most importantly, they provide a constituent perspective on the local and national impact of these programs and their significance to virtually every region of the country.

“It’s more important than ever for scientists to reach out to policy makers,” says Dr. Kevin B. Marvel, the AAS’s Executive Officer. “With the recent releases of the astrophysics and planetary-science decadal surveys, and with the heliophysics survey coming out this spring, we need to communicate our community’s prioritized goals to lawmakers. Congressional Visits Day, which we participate in every year, helps us train our members to be effective advocates for science.” The decadal surveys, which astronomers have been doing since the 1960s, represent the consensus of researchers’ review of the current state of scientific understanding and include prioritized lists of ground- and space-based projects needed to address outstanding questions over the coming decade. Funding agencies and policy makers look to these reports for guidance on scientific priorities.

Marvel notes that the AAS is intensifying its efforts to make the case for federal science funding with a new program called Communicating With Washington. “Our goal is to have one or two astronomers visit Capitol Hill every week that Congress is in session,” says Marvel. “We hope to reach every senator’s and representative’s office, every House and Senate science committee, and the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.”

More than 50% of all industrial innovation and growth in the United States since World War II can be attributed to advances pioneered through scientific research, with publicly funded R&D the vital foundation for today’s scientific and technological progress. Achievements from federally funded science, engineering, and technology include global environmental monitoring, lasers, liquid crystal displays, the Internet, and many other scientific and technical advances. Even astronomical research, sometimes considered of no practical value, has provided numerous tangible benefits, including major contributions to science education; applications of its technology in medicine, industry, defense, environmental monitoring, and consumer products; and opportunities for international cooperation.

The federal government supports a unique research and education enterprise that fuels the American economy. This enterprise provides the underpinning of high-technology industries and expands the frontiers of knowledge in every field of science. Much of this research is carried out at academic institutions across the country, ensuring knowledge transfer to future generations of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, physicians, and teachers. Additionally, technology transfer from academic research adds billions of dollars to the economy each year and supports tens of thousands of jobs.

Dr. Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116

Dr. Bethany Johns
AAS John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
+1 202-328-2010 x113

AAS members participating in CVD 2012:

* Jack Burns, Univ. of Colorado, Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, Boulder, CO
* Edward Churchwell, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
* Paola Coppi, Yale University, New Haven, CT
* Debra Elmegreen, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
* David Helfand, Quest University, Victoria, BC, Canada, and Columbia University, New York, NY
* Travis McIntyre, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
* Adam Morgan, Univ. of California, Berkeley, CA
* Jon Morse, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Loudonville, NY
* Marshall Perrin, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
* Paul Ray, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Alexandria, VA
* Hemant Shukla, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA
* Sonali Shukla, Univ. of Maryland, Silver Spring, MD
* Randall Smith, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA
* Dan Wik, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
* Peter Williams, Univ. of California, Berkeley, CA

Debra Elmegreen and David Helfand are President and President-Elect, respectively, of the AAS. Jack Burns is Chair of the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy.

More information about Congressional Visits Day:

More information about the AAS Communicating With Washington program:

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,000 also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.

The Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group is an information network comprising professional, scientific, and engineering societies, institutions of higher learning, and trade associations. The sponsors represent more than a million researchers and professionals in science and engineering. The Work Group is concerned about the future vitality of the U.S. science, mathematics, and engineering enterprise.

SpaceRef staff editor.