New program seeks to improve legislator understanding of science behind many policy issues

A new program called Missouri Science and Technology (MOST) Policy Fellowship will assist in providing answers to science-related policy questions at the Missouri State Capitol.

Although MOST’s ultimate goal is to place a fellow in Missouri state government to inform legislators and their staff about science, public education is currently at the forefront of their work.

“While we don’t have fellows in Jefferson City, we can still do something to inform science policy in our state by having events and by publishing briefs related to ballot issues,” said Rachel Owen, MOST co-founder and co-director. “We’re still trying to inform evidence-based policy in the state.”

MOST’s work has included a variety of events ranging from a bipartisan candidate forum to a U.S. Senate debate watch party. All of the events have included scientific research presentations, bridging the gap between policy and the science field. According to Rebecca Craig, policy coordinator for MOST, newly elected Sen. Josh Hawley recognized the importance of trusting science during the debate.

Another issue that was recently at the forefront of MOST’s work was providing information on the science behind medical cannabis. The team prepared a brief that was accessible to the general public, giving voters the scientific information and allowing them to decide what that science meant in regard to a yes or no vote.

In addition to efforts directed towards the 2018 midterm election, MOST has also been working hard to financially prepare for the eventual science and technology fellow to begin working.

“We’ve spent a lot of time building relationships with donors, working with donors both in the state, at a grassroots level, major donors and also nation-wide foundations to fundraise for the program,” Owen said.

For the MOST team, ensuring that its fellowship would be competitive with other post-graduation opportunities is a must. This goal exists to secure quality candidates for the position. Additionally, the program wants to fund a full-time staff person to ensure that the program is a success and remains a resource for years to come.

The founders remain optimistic about the possibility of obtaining a full-time staff person for MOST.

“We all really see the potential in this organization and are really passionate about sound policy,” MOST Policy Coordinator, Emily Miller, said. 

Right now, the hope is that a fellowship could be started during the 2021 legislative session. The fellow’s work would consist of aiding in the process of drafting, reviewing and voting on bills and other legislative components. Additionally, Owen explained that the fellow could help legislators and their staff understand scientific research and how science fits into the bigger picture.

The founders’ inspiration to start the program came from an informational guide published by the California Council on Science and Technology. After hearing about their state level science policy fellowship, the idea to mimic that position in Missouri was created. Initially, the most important part of the process was garnering legislative support.

“You have to get legislative support,” Owen said. “It doesn’t do us any good to go to all the trouble of trying to get them resources if they’re not going to use those resources.”

Because the founding members of MOST made this realization early, they have been working, since the beginning, to garner support from influential legislators at the capitol. Members cite Missouri State Rep. Kendrick and Missouri State Sen. Rowden as champions for their cause. These legislators, as well as many others, have helped to circulate a legislative letter of support throughout the capitol building in order to obtain signatures of support from representatives and senators from across the state.

As they evaluate what the next few years look like, MOST members remain dedicated to their cause and optimistic about changing the scientific culture in the Missouri legislature.