February 3, 2021

SciPol-Detroit launches seminar series on speaking to lawmakers about health and science

Science Policy Network-Detroit has announced a series of seminars designed to instruct faculty and students on how to communicate their issues more effectively, recruit more support and create a larger influence in the community, and address those issues with Michigan lawmakers.

Known as SciPol-Detroit, the collaborative consists of Wayne State University students, scientists and scholars, and community members interested in the intersection between science and policy, including how to better communicate science and advocate for science-based policies. The organization recently partnered with the WSU American Medical Association chapter at the School of Medicine and is affiliated with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Science Policy Network.

The group was co-founded last summer by Hilary Marusak, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, and three students in her lab -- WSU undergraduate students Shreya Desai and Saurav Singh, and master’s of public health student Breanna Borg. Dr. Marusak called the three students “the primary driving force” behind SciPol-Detroit. 

“We are at a pivotal moment in our history,” Dr. Marusak said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated health disparities and exposed the gaps in our health system. Inefficiency on Capitol Hill throws the future of public science funding into uncertainty, and there are global protests for racial equality at all levels, including science. The new wave of anti-science and mistrust, along with the proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and information sharing avenues, threatens public health and exacerbates inequities by already disadvantaged communities. As scientists, scholars and students, it is imperative that we work to address these issues, including bridging the gap between scientists, the lay public and lawmakers. We want to improve science communication and give scientists and students of science a seat at the table to advocate for evidence-based policies, particularly policies that can improve the lives of Detroiters.”

For its first year, SciPol-Detroit is focused on policy issues relevant to health disparities in the city of Detroit. In 2021, the organization is creating action groups centered around four key areas: water quality, accessibility and affordability; air pollution; lead exposure; and community violence. The organization will work with local organizations and community members to develop solutions to these problems.

The group will also bring together community voices and experts on a series of panel discussions on air pollution, exposure to violence and lead exposure. Last year its first panel discussion concerned Detroit water issues. Following the panel, SciPol-Detroit members pledged to help We the People of Detroit with its platform of fighting for clean, safe and affordable water. They also reached out to state lawmakers about Senate Bill 241, the “Water Shutoff Restoration Act,” which promotes access to clean water and protects Michigan residents from the spread of COVID-19 by prohibiting water shutoffs. Shortly after that, Detroit city officials extended the moratorium on water shutoffs through 2022, and SB241 was passed and signed into law Dec. 22, 2020.

SciPol-Detroit also is engaged with the WSU Office of Government and Community Affairs, and is offering training for members interested in meeting with state and federal lawmakers to discuss science advocacy and policy. The sessions, held via Zoom, include:

Feb. 11: Guest speaker James Williams
Feb. 25: BEST Training 1: Preparing to Talk With Lawmakers in May
March 11: BEST Training 2: Preparing to Talk With Lawmakers in May
March 25: BEST Training 3: Preparing to Talk With Lawmakers in May
April 8: Panel on Air Pollution
April 15: Training to meet with state lawmakers – smaller group
April 29: Training to meet with federal lawmakers – smaller group

All of SciPol-Detroit’s events are free, and there is no membership fee. Sign up for a mailing list and events. Preference to meet with lawmakers in the spring will be given to those who have attended more events and who are actively engaged.