Elias’ essay on importance of science results in meeting with Congress

susan elias grad student
Susan Elias

Ticks can bite anyone they latch onto — regardless of age, size, gender, nationality…or political affiliation.

Thus, everyone is at risk of Lyme disease, says Susan Elias.

That’s a message the doctoral student with the University of Maine Climate Change Institute and School of Earth and Climate Sciences will take to Capitol Hill in May.

And it’s part of a message that helped Elias win the all-expense-paid, three-day trip to the nation’s capital.

Elias, also a vector ecologist with Maine Medical Center Research Institute, examines eco-epidemiology tick-borne disease in an era of abrupt climate change.

Her essay on why atmospheric science is important to the United States and what a trip to Capitol Hill would mean to her education and career was one of six winning essays chosen by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which sponsored the contest.

Elias will accompany the UCAR Board of Trustees and the UCAR President’s Advisory Committee to meet members of Congress and their staffs, and attend a special briefing by Hill staffers on how Congress works.

She also will be invited to attend senior leadership briefings on topics including weather, water and climate.

UCAR is a nonprofit consortium of more than 100 North American member colleges and universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences. The group seeks to foster a deeper understanding of the atmosphere and Earth system.

Elias’ adviser, Kirk Maasch, encouraged her to submit an essay. Maasch is a professor with the Climate Change Institute and the School of Earth and Climate Sciences. He’s also a UCAR board member and in May will meet with members of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Science, Elias says, informs policy.

Knowledge of atmospheric and Earth sciences strengthens the country’s long-term national, economic and health security, Elias wrote in her essay.

Sophisticated Earth science, she says, can save lives by forecasting heat waves, severe storms, pollution, allergen events and climatic conditions that lead to infectious disease outbreaks, including the Zika virus.

Earth science also can assist the Navy with sea-level rise predictions to inform base relocations and to avert damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

And in Elias’ case, funding will help continue her tick research.

Her essay begins:

“They’re all at risk.”

Have you ever faced a roomful of people and had that thought?

I did, a few weeks ago when I gave a talk to a group of UMaine Climate Change Institute scientists.

I talk about ticks a lot. Deer ticks. Diseases they carry.

I say Lyme disease in Maine, in New England, in the U.S., is too high. I know every person in the room has been bitten, almost bitten, had Lyme, or knows someone who has. And I know they’re at risk of future bites.

Congress, she says, is key to authorizing funding for scientific research that benefits humanity.

Elias noted in her essay that when the 535-member, 115th Congress was sworn in Jan. 3, 2017, just one STEM scientist, Rep. Bill Foster, D-Illinois, was part of the ranks.

She quoted Foster, who told Public Radio International that funding that leads to cures for diabetes and Alzheimer’s could “solve the long-term fiscal crisis in Medicare.”

Elias also quoted Foster when he voiced concerns about the implications of Congressional cuts in research funding: “When you damage long-term scientific research, it damages the economy severely but not immediately.”

It’s incumbent on climate scientists to build rapport with Congressional leaders and Hill staffers by understanding their constraints, speaking their language and focusing on common interests, Elias says.

And that’s also a part of what she’ll do during her trip in May.

Elias’ winning essay is online.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777