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New student organization unites science and politics
Shelby Whitehead, Contributor Sep 19, 2016
The Forum on Science, Ethics and Policy recently established its place on campus. The main focus of FOSEP is to encourage a conversation about science and how it effects and is affected by politics.
FOSEP came to UT in September of 2015. It is based on similar programs at universities in Boulder, Colorado and Seattle, Washington.“Science and technology are playing an increasingly important role in society, and with that has come a lot of challenges at the intersection of science and policy,” Marie Kirkegaard, FOSEP’S vice president, said.
The program tries to bridge the communication gap between policy and science by holding events, which are generally held once a month and include bringing in speakers from professional fields. FOSEP recently hosted former state representative Gloria Johnson to speak on how policy works in the state. A possible upcoming event is a debate about policy between two opposing ethical sides. Ethics play a vital role in the creation and support of scientific experiments and the policies associated with it.
The group establishes science as the foundation of all conversation. They aim to have a bipartisan and factual discussion about issues in the scientific community and how these issues relate to society as a whole. Conversations range from topics on genetically engineered foods to climate change.
While FOSEP is still in the early stages, members are searching for a main focal point and identity. “We’re working on what we want to focus on, what our identity is compared to the other programs around the country,” Victoria DiStefano, FOSEP president, said. As a new club, the main goal of FOSEP is recruitment of new members. Membership is currently mostly graduate students, but FOSEP hopes to gain undergraduate members to increase the sustainability of the club. “We’ve intended FOSEP to be a forum both for scientists but also for nonscientists,” Kirkegaard said. The program also seeks more diverse membership to provide opposing opinions throughout the group and to create a more effective conversation.
The club is operating on campus and various local platforms now, but wants to expand to the national level. “Being able to communicate to the people who actually make the policies is very important,” DiStefano said. “I think nationally, it’s become recognized as a very important issue. How do we communicate our science to lawmakers? How do we interact with them to say what’s important?”
Another function of FOSEP is to integrate nontraditional career paths. FOSEP is looking to send individuals from the science field into political careers in D.C. where they will learn how to develop legislation that involves scientific principles.
Will Hartwig, founder and postdoctoral advisor of FOSEP at UT, suggests the club’s strong leadership will play a vital role in FOSEP and how engaged officers will contribute to success in the future. “Scientists just can’t remain on the sidelines,” Hartwig said.