Column: Science should inform policymaking

Michele Swanson

Although I always enjoyed learning about the wonders of the natural world, I got hooked on science when I landed my first job after college as a research technician in a lab devoted to white blood cells, a key player in our immune system.

While that experience motivated me to pursue a career as an academic scientist, today I appreciate that scientists also have a duty to communicate how science in the lab connects to the daily lives of people — how thousands of curiosity-driven questions generate new knowledge to save lives, make food cheaper and safer, protect clean water and air in our communities, expand energy options, improve education, and so much more.

That is why I’m taking part in the March for Science this month, and why we must all commit to sharing these connections with the public throughout the year.

Today, in addition to my work in the classroom and laboratory at the University of Michigan, I am active in the American Society for Microbiology. Our mission is to elevate the study of the microbial sciences and help both the public and our policymakers understand how interactions between microbes, people, and the environment advance society.

In Michigan that work is evident in discoveries of how some bacteria in our urinary tract trigger kidney stones, while others that live in soil can generate electricity or detoxify uranium. Michigan scientists have also learned that the microbes that naturally inhabit our bodies can alter our susceptibility to not only infections but also colon cancer and allergies.

Projects like these highlight the value of scientific research, as well as science’s critical role in policymaking. Any policy can be made better through science, a process that illuminates the risks of action or inaction, brings facts to bear, applies rigorous thinking to cause and effect, and analyzes what’s working and what’s not.

That is why we will march on April 22 — to remind policymakers of all political affiliations, in the U.S. and abroad, that they can look to science to explore and explain our world, enhance our daily lives and improve policy outcomes that directly affect us as citizens. In addition to the march in Washington, D.C., scientists and supporters of science will be marching in Ann Arbor and more than 400 locations around the world.

Michele Swanson is the president-elect of the American Society for Microbiology.