Thoughts from SIAMís New VPJanuary 10, 2009
If the presence of SIAM on Capitol Hill is limited to activities of the Committee on Science Policy, we will not have the full impact possible for an organization whose 13,000 members represent a key part of the international scientific community. One (huge) society that has had a substantial impact is the 160,000-member American Chemical Society: As reported on its Web site, in 2007 ACS members wrote 10,000 letters about issues like science and mathematics education as part of the Legislative Action Network.
By engaging in such activities, individual members of SIAM can achieve several objectives. If sustained, the efforts will help build relationships between SIAM members and their congressional representatives, and they will provide Congress with a source of informed opinion about science policy issues and the central role of applied mathematics in solving the daunting problems facing the world. Finally, an engaged SIAM membership will demonstrate that applied mathematics has a strong constituency---one that is willing to make a forceful case for adequate financial support for applied and industrial mathematics.
We need to make our own case; we cannot expect others to do it for us. Because Congress considers regular requests from many constituencies, organizations, and interest groups, even important and worthy causes do not always receive the support they need. The all-too-apt saying "if you are not at the table, then you are likely on the table" comes to mind.
To help individuals become advocates for issues important to the SIAM membership, we plan to develop a collection of resources that will make the process as efficient and easy as possible. The first step toward effective science advocacy is a membership that is informed about relevant issues and related ongoing legislative activities. We are now developing a Web site that will provide information about issues and pending bills on Capitol Hill, and SIAM members will be able to sign up for a periodic e-mail alert service. The AAAS and the American Physical Society are also good sources of such information. The next step is to contact congressional offices, and we will make it easy for SIAM members to find contact information. Finally, the Web site will provide guidance on writing effective letters and making constructive visits to members of Congress or their staffers. (A good source of ideas on the latter is "My Day on the Hill," by Sastry Pantula of the ASA, reprinted from Amstat News in the AMS Notices, January 2008.)
Increasingly, the problems that will define the agendas of governments around the world are international in scope, from the threat of infectious diseases to the search for alternative energy sources. Such problems are best addressed through international scientific efforts.
SIAM, with members and sections all over the world, has an international viewpoint and should be in a good position to help organize the worldwide applied mathematics community in confronting these issues. Our counterparts in other countries, such as the Italian and French applied mathematics societies, face some of the same challenges we do and are conducting efforts similar to ours to make their voices heard by their governments. We have much to learn from one another. We hope to engage the SIAM international membership and the leadership of industrial and applied mathematics organizations around the world in developing a concerted strategy for science policy and advocacy for support of the worldwide applied mathematics community.---Reinhard Laubenbacher