Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CS advocacy in the political realm

Two articles caught my eye recently:
In the first article, Peter Lee makes the argument (with an assist from Peter Harsha) that there are good political reasons for CS folks to publish in Science, Nature and the like (even if many of us snigger at the kinds of CS research that ends up there: I know I have horror stories about articles that are accepted over the objections of the specialist CS reviewers). One argument is that of influence: whether we like it or not, CACM is not the preferred reading material for Congressional aides and staffers that have the ears of elected representatives, but Science/Nature are on the radar. Moreover, these publications have well-honed PR engines to get articles out to reporters: often embarassingly overhyped, but hey, you know what they say about publicity :).

Which brings me to the second article on Barack Obama's science advisors. What's interesting is that 4 of 5 of them are from the life sciences. This is not to demean the importance of life sciences in the current policy environment (GMO crops, stem cells and biofuels are all on the political radar), but there are a good number of technical hot-button issues as well (voting machines, copyright issues, electronic eavesdropping, privacy), and it definitely wouldn't hurt to have a CS-oriented person near the "ear of the man", so to speak, to articulate a view of the importance of these issues and how the research community is dealing with them.

I'm a lowly untenured professor, who used to be a lowly lab researcher, so I have no good ideas on getting personally involved in such matters. But I can see (partially thanks to CCC and the SIGACT Theory group) how advocacy can, over time, lead to fundamental changes in the landscape of support for our efforts, so at the very least, I can consider the idea of disseminating my work (when appropriate) beyond our "incremental" conferences and exhort others to do the same.

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