Acting on scientific data

On Saturday, April 22, an estimated 18-20,000 people attended the March for Science, held at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. Three young scientists delivered speeches challenging the crowd that day on the inextricable link between science and politics, and urging them to action. This is the speech of Flojaune G. Cofer, Research and Policy Manager with Public Health Advocates.

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Dr. Flojaune G. Cofer

I’m not here today to talk to you about what’s happening 3,000 miles away or stir up your outrage about who occupies the highest office in our land.

I’m here today to talk about the here and now. The data have been analyzed. The data have done their job. It’s time for us to do ours. The challenge we face is not about the lack of data or our understanding of it; it is about the courage of our convictions.

Data have shown that increasing access to contraception helps prevent unintended pregnancy, which lowers the abortion rate. Data have shown us that the per-person cost of doing so is $26 per year. But we haven’t done our jobs to insist that our policies reflect the data.

Data have shown us that consuming sugar increases obesity and diseases like diabetes. Data have shown us that warning labels and taxes reduce consumption. Data have also shown us that 46 percent of Californians have prediabetes, a condition where blood sugar is higher than normal, increasing the risk of future diabetes. And, that the Diabetes Prevention Program, which only costs $325 per person (and actually saves us money in a few years), could help prevent 58 percent of those with prediabetes from becoming diabetic. But we haven’t done our jobs to make sure that policies reflect any of these data.

Right here in California, facing the Capitol, I remind us: this decision is under our direct control. Not Washington, D.C.’s. Ours.

Data have shown us that protecting green spaces in neighborhoods is a way to not only improve air quality, but to also increase physical activity, improve community esteem and cohesion, and buffer the impact of trauma. Right now there are bills in the California Assembly and Senate that deal with this issue that include earmarked funds for parks and green spaces in historically disadvantaged communities. Will we stand together to make sure that the policies reflect the data?

We can’t let the data speak for themselves. No, we speak for the data.

  • Science advocates take to the streets of downtown Sacramento, CA, on April 22, 2017. [Photo Danessa Mayo]

And when we do this, we can’t ignore racism and sexism because it is hard. Representation matters. We need to bring more women, more scientists of color and more women scientists of color into our ranks because we work better and are more impactful when we do. The strength with which we advocate for the conclusions we draw from our data matters because it has the ability to transform lives, remove barriers and restore justice.

As scientists, we passed organic chemistry, molecular biology, theoretical physics and calculus 3. We’re built for difficult and challenging tasks that don’t have easy answers. And if our brains understand uncertainty and disorder in the abstract, we can certainly handle it in the political process.

The climate and lack of competent leadership in Washington is a real challenge, but we are fortunate to have a great opportunity here in California, one that we take for granted and often waste. So I ask: Do we have courage? Are we convicted? Because the data have done their job.

It’s time for us to do ours.


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Flojaune Cofer
Flojaune G. Cofer is an epidemiologist serving as the Research and State Policy Manager for Public Health Advocates. She is active in the Sacramento community on public health issues trying to create environments which are equitable and promote community wellbeing.