is one of those “alternative” careers for scientists, but what is it
really? In its most simplistic sense, it
is the policy around science, much the same way we think of business policy, education
policy, or housing policy.
But there are
also complex meanings to science policy.
There are at least four ways to think of science policy. A career in
science policy may involve any number of these four (or even something else
since the field is very broad):
Developing policy for science
What it means: Developing policy for science is usually a
top-down approach taken by the White House.
The current policies for US science are defined by the Office
of Science and Technology Policy, with initiatives such as: increased
funding for biomedical research, the physical sciences, engineering; increased
support for high-risk/high-payoff research; making the R&D tax credit
permanent; and ensuring that Americans have appropriate education in science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Using science to inform policy
What it means: It is very common for health-related
government policies to be informed by science, but other policies, such as
defense policies, can also be based on science.
In 2009, the US
Preventative Services Task Force issued guidelines on mammography
screening. The guidelines increased the
age at which women should get their first mammograms, and this change in
guidelines was based on scientific findings.
Determining the policies under which science is funded
What it means: Organizations that provide science funding
have to decide what principles they will use to balance their portfolios. Each year, the government as a whole makes
decisions in the fiscal year budget that are then promulgated down to various
agencies. Decisions are also made by non-governmental organizations, such as
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, on what
they will support.
Many Institutes and Centers at the National Institutes of Health are governed
by a Strategic Plan, which determines what types of research they will
fund. Examples include the NCI Plan to Eliminate Suffering and
Death of Cancer, the Strategic
Plan for NIH Obesity Research, and the National
Institute of Mental Health Strategic Plan.
Identifying alternatives and choosing among them to reach
an explicit science policy outcome
What it means:
Sometimes, a policymaker has determined the desired outcome, and policy
analysis is used to identify alternative ways to reach the desired outcome.
An example: Recently, the NIH all but completed
the Enhancing Peer
Review Initiative, which had several
goals. For each of the three
implementation goals, alternatives were discussed and debated in the process of
to work towards the stated outcomes.