FAS launches new Science Council in collaboration with Congressman Bill Foster

06.22.21 | 4 min read | Text by Federation of American Scientists

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), in collaboration with Congressman Bill Foster (D, IL-11) and his office, has launched a new Science Council to:

The Science Council includes seven leading scientists and technologists, specializing in fields such as infectious diseases, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and social epidemiology. During the first FAS-convened meeting between the Science Council and Congressman Foster, the experts shared scientific knowledge on many pressing issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, socioeconomic and racial inequality, and the competitiveness of the U.S. research and development enterprise.

“I am a firm believer that policymakers must work with nonpartisan experts to inform comprehensive and effective policies,” said Congressman Foster. “I am grateful to FAS for launching the Science Council, a model where a team of experts in scientific and technological fields can provide members of Congress with the insights and data to underpin evidence-based policy. I am looking forward to all we will be able to accomplish.”

The Congressman’s Science Council is working to augment the Foster office’s S&T policy capacity by providing on-demand, nonpartisan, evidence-based information, research, and analysis on pressing issues the Foster team is addressing. The Council provides scientific information in plain language, in formats that are tailored to meet the moment (such as briefings, one-pagers, or suggested hearing questions) and suitable for sharing widely with congressional staff and Members of Congress. The experts on the Council can also connect congressional offices with other specialists throughout the S&T community, facilitating access to scientific knowledge on an expansive set of issues.

“The U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic would likely have been more effective if every Member of Congress had had a team of STEM experts on standby, with the ability to rapidly connect with them and their networks to get a true sense of potential scenarios the country could be facing, and learning what it would have taken to minimize deaths, infections, and economic impacts,” said Science Council member Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., M.A.L.D, infectious diseases physician, founding director of Boston University’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research, and associate director of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories.

FAS modeled Congressman Foster’s Science Council, in part, on PCAST (the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology), and is happy to work with additional congressional offices to build councils tailored to the needs and priorities of individual Members of Congress and their staff. Depending on the preference of the office, council membership can include experts in diverse disciplines spanning the S&T landscape, or be composed of a team of experts focused on one or two core issues, such as infectious diseases, energy, or agricultural practices. FAS is intentional about working to include experts on the councils who are constituents of the Member of Congress, forging powerful connections since the council may be directly affected by pressing issues within the Member’s district or state. As noted in a Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center analysis of the Legislative Branch’s capability to address advancements in S&T, Members of Congress and their staff generally demonstrate a reliance on “regular ‘trusted’ sources in lieu of interrogating the credibility of individual pieces of information produced by that source,” and so establishing a greater number of trusted, lasting relationships between Members of Congress, their teams, and the S&T community can increase the use of science in the policymaking process, bolstering the effectiveness of U.S. public policies.

“Members of Congress have an opportunity to more fully incorporate science-derived information into policy decision-making, helping not only their own constituents, but people all across the U.S., and around the world,” said Michael A. Fisher, Ph.D., FAS senior fellow and director of the Congressional Science Policy Initiative. “Imagine a Congress in which every Senator and Representative is hardwired into the U.S. science community via strong ties with their science council, with on-demand access to evidence-based research and analysis, and how that would improve public policy outcomes.”

The experts serving on Congressman Foster’s Science Council are Danielle Tullman-Ercek, Ph.D., Andrew V. Papachristos, Ph.D., Kiarri N. Kershaw, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Mohanbir Sawhney, Ph.D., M.A. of Northwestern University; Michael V. Volin, Ph.D. of Midwestern University; Fei-Fei Li, Ph.D., M.S. of Stanford University; and Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., M.A.L.D. of Boston University.

For more information regarding FAS’ work to organize and staff science councils for Members of Congress, Dr. Fisher can be reached at sciencepolicy@fas.org.