For many of us who work in or around science, it can be baffling to watch some of the decisions made by politicians. Some neuroscience faculty, staff and students got a look behind the scenes of what it’s like to be a scientist in government on Friday from congressman Jerry McNerney, PhD, who represents California’s 9th district. (His degree is in math). McNerney was at Stanford touring neuroscience labs at the VA and on campus, hosted by the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, and he took a pause at lunch for a town hall to answer questions about science, policy, and life in government.
McNerney talked about the challenges of explaining science to his colleagues and advocating for science-based policy on issues relating to energy and the environment as well as funding for biomedical research. He said one of his greatest tools is athletics. If he plays squash with someone he disagrees with, it’s easier to have calm conversations about policy. “If you communicate in an aggressive way you make it worse,” he said. “But you have to work at it.”
He encouraged scientists in the audience to talk with those they disagree with because their voices need to be heard. “To be a great country and a leader we need great research,” he said. Ensuring funding for that research is going to require scientists to be actively involved in explaining the value of their work.
McNerney was particularly interested in research related to traumatic brain injury, which is a critical problem for veterans returning from duty. He visited the lab of bioengineer David Camarillo, PhD, who is developing better ways of measuring head impacts and the damage they cause.
“We want to do the best we can to help these folks,” McNerney said.
Image of Rep. McNerney learning about concussion prevention by Tanya Raschke