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A farewell from Rachael Maxwell

It has been an immense pleasure to be part of this community. Throughout my time with Evidence for Democracy, the generosity of our funders, partners and donors has humbled me. Thank you for your support and guidance.

I especially want to thank my team who always showed up with focus, tenacity, and a bountiful sense of humor. I am so proud of everything we accomplished. From our ambitious work on transparency, to the hit success of the Science to Policy Accelerator, you made it possible.

It’s hard to be insightful when you’re saying goodbye. Yes, we live in extraordinary times (Covid!). Yes, science has never been more advanced (AI! Quantum!). Yes, we are buckling under the pressures of climate change (wildfires!), misinformation (vaccines!), and unchecked inequality (housing! groceries!). And yes (yes!), we absolutely need to double down on science to help absorb the shocks of the coming decades.

But, at this particular moment, in this particular country, science is fragile. Leadership at the top levels is waning (retiring, to be precise), research trainees are going hungry (no really, they are), science policy in the halls of government is tucked away as much as possible (which isn’t too hard, as there isn’t all too much of it), the list goes on (it’s all here in another report).

Many people much wiser than me ponder what this will amount to down the line. Amid the commentary, it seems we all worry about the consequences of prolonged underinvestment and
a disjointed system. The good news, or so it seems to me, is that whether your thing is industrial policy, talent retention, higher education, or innovation performance, many of us are pushing for something better in our little corner.

On the political side, evidence-informed policy remains an upward battle. The pervasive mistrust of experts, and more broadly, of democratic institutions, has elected officials so often stuck between that proverbial rock and a hard place.

In a recent address reflecting on 40 years of health journalism, André Picard said, “Follow the evidence, no matter how unpopular it makes you.” This is surely nightmare advice for any politician, but unpopular decision-making is not going away. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again (as a parting gift!): we all need to get a lot more comfortable in admitting there are no absolutes, not in science and not in public policy. Stating plainly what we know and don’t know is one way for politicians to show that evidence matters in decisions where the public is the ultimate stakeholder.

So, let E4D continue to be an advocate. If you are in a position to do so, continue to support this organization. I recognize that this request is very likely one of many these days. (Yes, this my last attempt to recruit monthly donors, and I will be signing myself up as one!)

E4D will soon have a new Executive Director. There has never been an easy time to take on this job. When Katie Gibbs founded E4D, government scientists were being barred from speaking openly about their work. When I joined the team, we were deep in the throes of the Covid pandemic. The next in line will have their own challenges, but I am sure you will welcome and encourage them as you did with me.

Onwards we go!

Rachael Maxwell

Rachael with the newest member of her family, rocking an E4D t-shirt out in nature!
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