Exploring the Intersection of Politics and Science, with Dr. Yvette Seger – Ep #1

One of the most relevant and controversial topics in our society today is the intersection of politics and science. Many are quick to assume that this topic is geared exclusively toward environmental concerns, but the truth is, the intersection of two important fields is much larger than that. Here to shed some light on this complex and timely topic is Dr. Yvette Seger.

Early on in higher education, Dr. Seger was drawn to policy and politics, but also to horses, so she converged her passions by double majoring in Zoology and Politics at Ohio Wesleyan. Dr. Seger went on to graduate school at Stony Brook University and then to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) where she pursued doctoral training in genetics. Currently, Dr. Seger serves as the Director of Science Policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks

  • [1:30] Mark introduces his guest, Dr. Yvette Seger.
  • [3:30] Dr. Seger talks about her passion for politics and zoology.
  • [6:00] What is the role of politics in science?
  • [10:30] The value of negotiating and losing the battle to win the war.
  • [13:30] Why scientists should care about politics and advocacy.
  • [17:00] Tenacity is required to succeed in scientific advocacy.
  • [19:45] Dr. Seger shares some of the resources available with FASEB.
  • [23:50] What does Dr. Seger do day to day in her role as the Science Policy director?
  • [29:00] Dr. Seger talks about meeting with legislators.

Connect with Dr. Yvette Seger

Explaining the role of politics in science

Should scientists keep out of politics? Is there a way for science to stay neutral when it comes to political discussions? According to Dr. Seger, the answer is a resounding, “No.” She doesn’t argue that scientists should become partisan, rather, she wants to inform her fellow scientists and the general public about the role of politics in scientific research. This is particularly relevant when it comes to funding, most scientific research and institutions rely on federal funding to stay solvent.

While it may seem like a public relations choreographed event, the truth is, when you see politicians visit research labs, it’s often at the request of the scientists who run the operation. The goal here is to help representatives of Congress get a “boots on the ground” look at why federal funding is so important and to see how public funds are being used to make meaningful scientific advancements. These scientists and researchers would be foolish to ignore the intersection of politics and science as it would dramatically impact the effectivity of their work.

Losing the battle to win the war

One of the complicated aspects of the relationship between politics and science is the fact that politics tend to be more impassioned and messy where science is data-driven. In order to make these two important institutions of our society work together, scientists like Dr. Seger have to lead the way in finding compromises to move vital policy forward. Encouraging her team, Dr. Seger uses the metaphor, “You have to lose the battle to win the war,” the lesson being, a strategic approach is often more effective than being right.

What does it take for a scientist to thrive in the realm of policy and advocacy? According to Dr. Seger, it comes down to two very important traits, problem-solving and tenacity. These two traits are, in many ways, “baked in” to the role of a scientist. At a base level, science is all about identifying and solving problems. In the course of problem-solving, roadblocks are going to emerge and setbacks are going to take place, this is where tenacity comes in. When deployed skillfully, these traits are immensely valuable when it comes to engaging with politicians who don’t usually see things in a data-driven manner.

To hear more about Dr. Seger’s worthwhile efforts as the Director of Science Policy at FASEB, make sure to listen to this engaging episode of When Science Speaks!

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