Let the Geeks Be Heard

In my previous post I asked about sending copies of the Geek Manifesto to the United States Congress. After thinking about it and procrastinating, the best way to get this done is collectively. I can’t take on the monetary aspect (how do I collect money? do I really want to?). But that restriction actually means we can do something better: collectively create some cover letters and short pieces to go along with the book. Since the hardcover is now out of print and the paperback isn’t out till January, it fortuitously provides the time to send the new Congress a better message then just “here’s a book, read it or suffer electoral consequences”. Instead, we’re saying “welcome to congress: here’s something you need to do a good job”.

Updated 2013-01-26: Well, that went poorly. I only got a few signatories but hopefully a few others have done so privately. I still recommend sending a copy to your representative. My letter is ready to send with a paperbook copy, mailing Monday.

What I hope we can do

Sometime shortly after the 113th Congress of the United States begins on January 3, 2013, every House and Senate member receives in their office an envelope with a cover letter tailored to them explaining what this is about and why science and evidence-based policy matters to them and their constituents, maybe a short pamphlet and a copy of The Geek Manifesto.

What do we need to get there?

Get commitments to send books to every congressperson

Per T Hinker’s comment in the previous thread, I want to use Pledge Bank. First, I don’t want to handle money and don’t really want to do all the mailing myself — I am lazy, busy and a bit risk averse. But more importantly, it sends a stronger message if more people are directly involved. The commitment would be: by the second week of January, mail an envelope (or envelopes) to the pledged congressperson containing a copy of the book, a cover letter (see below) and possibly a pamphlet (also see below).

Write cover letters

Congress people are busy. Their staffs are busy. Would you necessarily read a book that came without explanation or just a generic one? So I’m thinking we should write short, clear cover letters that explain why science matters using examples — and this is the critical part — that are relevant to the people or region the congressperson represents. The idea is to summarize the point of the book so that even if no one in the office actually reads it. I can commit to helping print out copies (and mailing them to people who’ve pledged to be mailed with books) if people don’t have access to printing.

Since this is a collaborative effort, think a google group plus some shared google docs are a way to get these written. Some people who might pledge may not feel like they can write an effective letter, even with a template — but they probably know what science issues are important in their district. As a stretch goal, I wonder if the delivery could include a pamphlet. Something glossy, but not to glossy. But this requires some design skills so hopefully a designer might get involved. I’m thinking one or two pages for various topics about why paying better attention to the process and results of science will result in better public decisions.

Timeline

I’ve already setup a Google Group for discussion. I’ve added a sign-up sheet for which congress people each pledger has committed to. We can add documents as needed.

I’ve setup a pledge at Pledge Bank. Since this will still be useful if only some congress people get the drop, I plan to set the minimum level needed to activate the pledge relatively low. Better we influence 50 congress people then none thru not making a goal of 535. I commit to sending a book to whoever takes the seat of Washington’s 9th district as that’s where I live (it was redistricted for this election or I would be more interested in the 7th).

By November 15th, I hope a few (more than a few!) have joined and we’ve got active discussion about how a good cover letter would read, including research on what topics various members of Congress might find compelling. By then, we’ll also most likely know who will be in the 113th Congress.

By December 15th, we should start ordering books. I realize it’s relatively early but if for some reason there’s high demand for the book, we don’t want to order to late and be forced to wait for new shipments from the publisher.

By January 3rd, books should start arriving at pledgers’ houses. Everyone should get there cover letter (and if there’s enough interest the pamphlet) ready to send. Envelopes (like priority mail) are probably the best idea as I suspect they will not be shunted into package searching and will just go thru mail search.

By January 9th, everyone who has pledge should have sent off their packet so that hopefully the books arrive in the middle of the second week of the session.

Suggestions wanted!

If it’s not obvious, I don’t really know how to run this. I need others to join so I’m not just making it all up as I go along. What would make a good cover letter? How do you send a letter to a congress person who may not be seen as very interested in science in a way that makes him care? What could usefully go in that notional pamphlet?

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