Assignment: Letter to a Policymaker

You will compose a letter to a policy maker on a matter of current science or technology policy. Your letter should identify the issue, explain its importance on the basis of themes we have discussed in class, and describe what policy action you think is warranted—i.e. funding, other incentives or forms of support, regulation, deregulation, publicity campaigns, etc. Your letter should be addressed to a specific person who is appropriate to contact on the basis of the issue. For example, if you are writing about a matter in a specific congressional district, you should write to a policy maker who represents that district on either the state or national level. In addition to submitting your letter to me, you should send it to the policy maker in question. Although it is not required, I would be interested to see any response you receive.

If you’re looking for inspiration for topics, keep an eye on the D2L news forum, where I will post HPS issues from the news.

Throughout the term we will try to bridge the gap between the abstract theoretical concepts that are the stock and trade of HPS scholars and the practical concerns that guide our daily lives. This is an exercise in putting that experience to work. Your letter should prompt you to synthesize theoretical concepts from HPS with practical historical and contemporary examples and then apply them to an issue of immediate importance.

A successful letter will...

-  State a clear and unambiguous issue relating to science or technology policy in the first paragraph
-  Identify the action you recommend, also in the first paragraph
-  Describe the importance of the issue using one or two specific, evocative examples
-  Explain how the examples you provide motivate the policy action you advise
-  Communicate in-depth thinking in a straightforward, easy to follow manner

Like your other writing assignments, this is a short piece of writing. It is, however, worth a substantial portion of your grade. As a result, you will submit drafts your letter early and run it through several rounds of revisions. We will conduct an official peer review in class for both drafts, but you should also solicit commentary both from me and from your peers as you continue to revise your letter.

Finding an appropriate policymaker
Your letter may be addressed to any elected representative at the national, state, or local level. Be aware that your letter will be taken more seriously if you are writing to your own representative. You should also try to write the person best situated to care about the issue you discuss and act upon your advice. The President is unlikely to intervene on the issue of broadband availability in your home town. Similarly, your local mayor is not well situated to do anything about funding for the National Science Foundation.