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The who, what, where, when, why, and how of testifying for science

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

MSU SciComm held its final science policy lunch of the semester today. Alyssa Lokie, the campaign coordinator for clean transportation at the Union of Concerned Scientists, led the session about testifying for science.

Testifying is an important tool for impacting legislation and public policy. Typically, it involves members of the public speaking to policymakers about a specific topic during a hearing. These hearings are instrumental in collecting and analyzing information when proposing a policy. Policymakers and their staff often have limited time and resources to understand a complex issue; hence they rely on experts and their constituents for perspective. Providing policymakers with evidence-based input allows for them to make informed decisions.

While we typically think of testifying in the context of testifying before Congress, testifying is much broader. It is relevant to local and state governmental hearings, public comment periods on agency rules, and even public utility commission hearings. This means that you don’t need to travel to Washington to get involved!

Now suppose you do want to testify about a science topic. How do you do it? First, you need to be aware of public hearings that are happening. Hearings are often posted on various governmental websites and compiled into lists by various non-governmental organizations. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Science Network can help you find a hearing in your area.

Once you have identified a hearing, the second step is to determine who will be attending. Suppose you are attending a congressional hearing. Then the audience may be representatives and senators from both parties. Remember that your audience will likely not be experts in the specific topic. As policymakers who have had to win elections, they may have made public statements about the issue so do your research and know where your audience stands on the issue.

Next, you will need to know how the hearing will work. For example, is there a set amount of time per person to talk? For public hearings, 2-3 minutes per person is not uncommon. When determining what to say, be brief but to the point. Your testimony should make the issue personal and relevant. Determine how you can make the science tangible. For example, when discussing climate change, you can focus on how is climate change affecting individuals through a brief example followed by the data and evidence to support your claims. Be sure to write out the remarks you plan to say and practice! Saying your points out loud ensures they are communicated in the way you intend.

When arriving at the hearing, address the chairperson and then the other members. Introduce yourself, where you live (especially if one of your representatives is in the audience), and then whether you are talking as a citizen or on behalf of an organization. State your credentials too, especially if they are related to the topic you are discussing.

Remember, there are many opportunities to testify for science at various levels of government. Even if you don’t have a science Ph.D., you can still be involved. You don’t need to be a Ph.D. to be an expert and you can still provide valuable feedback.

This lunch ends the MSU SciComm policy lunch series for the semester. With the upcoming presidential election, we will be holding various events related to science policy in 2020. Keep an eye on our event calendar for details!

A video of today' session is available at

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