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Prioritizing ASA’s Science Policy

1 July 2011 No Comment
Steve Pierson, ASA Director of Science Policy
    In March of 2008, the ASA created an Office of Science Policy to better integrate statisticians into the policymaking process. With the ASA’s office located so close to Washington, DC, the opportunity to interact with national policymakers beckoned and creation of this office took advantage of the opportunity to make the ASA’s presence and interests known to Congress and more broadly. The office also actively advocates for statistics research funding and funding for the federal statistical agencies. This month, ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson describes how the ASA chooses the policy issues in which to engage.
    ~Nancy Geller, ASA President

      The goals of the ASA’s science policy activities are to raise the profile of statisticians in policymaking and advocate for the interests of statisticians. With statisticians’ interests and expertise being so diverse, trying to cover all the topics that fit within these goals is difficult, which leads to the question of how the ASA’s science policy activities are chosen and prioritized.

      To be considered a candidate for a science policy activity, the activity might fall into one or more of the following categories:

      • Subject-matter interest: Are there members who have expertise or interest in the topic? Topics that fall into this category include election auditing, climate change, the U.S. financial system, forensic science, and educational assessment.
      • Member or ASA need: For example, the K–12 statistics education bill reflects the need to educate decisionmakers about the importance of statistical literacy for students. The ASA’s work to facilitate federal scientists serving in ASA leadership responds to the importance of federal statisticians being represented in ASA governance. One also could put into this category the ASA’s support for the budgets of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or National Science Foundation (NSF).
      • Federal statistical agency need: I put federal statistical issues into their own category because of their importance to the ASA as the producers of statistical data that moves markets and determines representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. As such high-profile statistical data producers, it’s important to ensure they have the resources and autonomy to do their job effectively and efficiently. This is why the ASA has supported more autonomy and/or stature for the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Justice Statistics, IRS Statistics of Income Division, and National Center for Education Statistics.
      • Congressional, administration, or other political developments: The ASA monitors bills in Congress and or administration actions and acts according to ASA interests. This has reinforced the ASA’s work on forensic science, K–12 statistics education (because of the expected re-examination of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), and the federal statistical agencies. One also could put support of the budgets for NIH, NSF, and the statistical agencies into this category because of Congress’s annual budget considerations.

      Once a possible topic is identified, many factors are considered to determine the ASA’s priorities. I often bring issues to the ASA Board for discussion and input. The board may authorize actions or make official statements. No policy issue is pursued without approval from the board or ASA executive committee.

      Further considerations for policy activities include the potential benefit to ASA membership, whether there is a concern in our broader community to leverage, and the likelihood of success. Broader community concern could come in the form of a report from other professional associations or the National Academies. Many policy activities require membership involvement, so we must evaluate whether members are available to volunteer their time.

      I can’t emphasize enough the importance of ASA membership involvement in our science policy activities. ASA members are key to identifying possible science policy activities, educating ASA staff and leadership, and carrying out science policy actions.

      Current activities include visiting congressional representatives to gain support for the Statistics Teaching, Aptitude, and Training Act of 2011 (STAT Act of 2011), a bill to promote K–12 statistics education through teacher professional development and other programs. You can read about our ongoing activities on the ASA website and in Amstat News.

      Your input is welcomed. If you have suggestions for an ASA science policy action, please contact me at pierson@amstat.orgor contact a member of the ASA leadership. Their email addresses can be found here.

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