Last year, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) selected Zachary Kiser, PhD, as its 2019-2020 ASH Congressional Fellow. The Congressional Fellow program aims to connect hematologists to the policy-making process and educate congressional members and staff about issues that are important to hematologists and their patients.
Dr. Kiser, who was previously a postdoctoral fellow in the National Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded research program at the University of Minnesota, spent the 2019-2020 academic year in Washington, D.C., where he helped shape health-care and hematology policy in Sen. Sherrod Brown’s congressional office.
In his last “Notes From the Hill” column, Dr. Kiser reflects on his time on Capitol Hill and urges scientists to make their voices heard.
In this, my last column as the 2019-2020 American Society of Hematology (ASH) Congressional Fellow, I want to begin by saying serving in this role has been one of the greatest thrills and highest honors in my career. This fellowship and ASH have changed my life in innumerable ways. Over the past year, I have been empowered by this role to bring truth, compassion, and an understanding of hematology to many people, from all walks of life.
I want to use my platform now to do more than distill the lessons I have learned and sometimes chilling realizations I have had over the past 18 months. Instead, I want to tell ASH members that we need to stand up and push for American leaders who show fidelity to truth and science.
Science is, at its core, a dedication to the pursuit of truth. Every year, I make the journey to the ASH Annual Meeting and am overwhelmed by the sheer number of my colleagues who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of a truth that aims to better the lives of all humanity. As scientists, we are often looked to as the arbiters of truth in times of great calamity. My time on Capitol Hill has reinforced this idea for me.
In May, I was given the opportunity to join the Public Health Oversight Team on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. This position allowed me to serve at the forefront of Congress’ oversight of the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been an honor to work for the Democratic members of our subcommittee, as they pursue a well-crafted and scientifically sound plan to help our nation persevere during this pandemic. I hope that I have been able to use my knowledge and skills to help improve oversight and show the American people that many of their elected officials still remain faithful to the principles of the job you bestowed upon them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many divisions in our society and cognitive errors including a lot of wishful thinking. This is an unfamiliar situation for all of us and an uncertain, frightening time. For many years, I genuinely believed that the two major U.S. political parties were two sides of the same American coin – no matter the ideological differences, both sides wanted the best for our nation. But current evidence does not support this reality. I have been given a front row seat to the Trump administration’s quagmire of a public health response, which has directly led to an unacceptable loss of life. And I have watched, sometimes overcome by grief and terror, as congressional Republicans enable the continuance of policies that worsen loss of life. The stories I have had the honor to hear from Americans across the country these last few months will stay with me long after this pandemic is over.
By the time this column makes it to you, the 2020 U.S. presidential election will have passed and the people of this country will be trying to chart a course through a deadly winter. I implore everyone who reads this to stand up and make your knowledgeable voices heard. Remind America that even in the darkest of times, scientists can still be counted on to help our nation move forward and to improve the quality of all its citizens’ lives. If we stay silent, other voices not informed by science will rise to fill the void. As scientists, we can lay the groundwork so that the next great crisis is not marked with needless death and despair.