Scientist Action and Advocacy Network

We are a New York-based group of scientists who partner with organizations that are creating positive social change.


Pro bono science

Our members are doctoral students, PhD-holding research scientists, and professors who donate their skilled labor and expertise to our partner organizations. We compile brief, targeted literature reviews, and analyze pre-existing data. We can also serve as guides to particular domains of scientific knowledge. Our current partners include Raise the Age New York, Solitary Watch, BagItNYC, the Metropolitan Council on Housing.


Lobbying and outreach

In partnership with organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Society for Neuroscience, our members have lobbied our elected officials to support evidence-based policies and scientific discovery. We also promote candidates with pro-science platforms.

ScAAN in the media

ScAAN was most recently featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review and the APA Monitor on Psychology.

Current partnerships

In 2016, the New York City Council adopted the "Bring your own bag" law, requiring that all retailers in NYC charge a 5-cent minimum fee for each carryout bag provided at checkout. A coalition of non-profits and community organizations, BagItNYC, supported this legislation. However, the New York State Senate and Assembly voted in February 2017 to nullify the law, and Governor Cuomo established a moratorium preventing the City Council from moving forward with a new bill involving bag fees until January 1, 2018. However, Cuomo also established a Plastic Bag Task Force to develop a statewide plan to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags.

There are strong environmental reasons for reducing the use of single-use plastic bags, and there are strong economic and psychological reasons to favor a fee over other solutions such as a monetary incentive to bring a reusable bag. Therefore, ScAAN supports the efforts of BagItNYC and has prepared a knowledge brief to summarize scientific arguments for fee-based legislation to reduce single-use bag use. You can download our full report or read it here:

Until recently, New York State and North Carolina were the only two states to prosecute all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, incarcerating them in adult jails and prisons, severely affecting their re-entry, rehabilitation, and social development. Raise the Age NY is a campaign that supports a comprehensive approach to raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State.

In partnership with Raise the Age NY, we compiled a report of the most current research on adolescent brain development. The research shows that the adolescent brain is different from the adult brain: it is still under development, and very sensitive to life experiences. This means that the trauma induced by incarceration can have long-lasting effects. However, it also means that the adolescent brain should be particularly amenable to rehabilitation in programs that recognize the difference between adolescents and adults.

As New York legislators were drafting a bill to raise the age, we went directly to lawmakers to share the research summarized in our report.

Jenn Laura Lee spoke at the Suffolk County Legislature Building in Long Island, NY. Mar 29, 2017.
Wei Ji Ma delivered a statement to a joint committee meeting of the New York City Council. Jan 19, 2017.

You can download our full report or read it here:

In April 2017, after years of debate, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age.

People living in solitary confinement spend 22-24 hours a day in a jail cell the size of a parking space. In this environment, they are deprived of meaningful social contact, physical exercise, and mental stimulation. These conditions have severe impacts on the individual’s physical and psychological health. Solitary confinement is not only inhumane but counterproductive, leading to increased aggression and higher rates of recidivism. The NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement is working to pass the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act in New York State, a bill which would limit the use of solitary confinement in favor of more effective alternatives.

We compiled a brief report on the psychological and neurological consequences of solitary confinement. The NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement has used the report to lobby for the HALT Act in Albany. You can download our full report or read it here:

Additionally, we have partnered with Solitary Watch, a national watchdog agency. Our next project is to make factsheets for their website, in order to increase public awareness of the effects of solitary confinement. We also plan to help them analyze survey data that is currently being collected from prisoners in solitary confinement.

The Metropolitan Council on Housing is a tenants' rights organization that has been fighting for safe, decent, and affordable housing in New York City for over 50 years. Every year, thousands of New Yorkers use the Council's telephone hotline or walk-in clinic to get assistance with their housing.

At ScAAN, we are helping the Council understand the people they serve in order to better address their needs. We are also producing reports that the Council can use in their campaigns to strengthen rent regulation laws.

At the D.C. March for Science, Will Adler gave a talk about ScAAN as a model for using science to promote social change. Apr 22, 2017
In partnership with Union of Concerned Scientists, Jess Minder (front row, pink) met with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (center) and other members of Congress to advocate for climate solutions. Apr 27, 2017
Will Adler (3rd from left) went to Capitol Hill with the Society for Neuroscience to advocate for biomedical science funding. Mar 23, 2017. Photo: SfN
We hosted speakers from our partnering organizations to talk about the role of science in criminal justice reform. May 30, 2017

Upcoming events

To ensure access to the building, please contact us before coming to your first general meeting or working group.


William T. Adler, PhD

Will is a computational researcher at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, and the founder of ScAAN. He is passionate about electoral reform and about building a network of volunteer scientists.

Wei Ji Ma, PhD

Wei Ji is an associate professor of neural science and psychology at NYU, where his research group studies human decision-making, perception, and working memory. He is the first author of an upcoming textbook on mathematical models of behavior. He has long-standing interests in education policy, non-profit management, and science outreach. He is the co-founder and chairman of the board of the Rural China Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which aims to improve the quality of primary education in rural China through student-centered teaching methods, community-based content, and sustainable teacher professional development.

Kristina Penikis

Kristina is a doctoral student in the Center for Neural Science at NYU. She is project co-leader on ScAAN's collaboration with the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and Solitary Watch. She is a firm believer that policy should be informed by empirical evidence, and she is passionate about fighting for social justice and for the dignity of marginalized persons.

Stephen Braren

Stephen is a doctoral student in developmental psychology at NYU. He is interested in how social and biological factors contribute to learning and cognitive development, particularly within the context of stress and poverty. Ultimately, he hopes that his research will inform education and health policy.

Andra Mihali

Andra is a doctoral student in the Center for Neural Science at NYU. Andra has worked with Raise the Age NY and Solitary Watch, and is interested in how psychology and neuroscience can enhance understanding of human behavior and aid social justice.

Jessica Minder

Jessica is a doctoral student in the NYU Sackler Institute. She is interested in using scientific literature to inform criminal justice policy. She is also involved in ScAAN's efforts to lobby elected officials about the critical need for strong funding of science research.

Gail Rosenbaum

Gail is a postdoctoral researcher at NYU studying developmental cognitive neuroscience. In particular, she is interested in understanding the neural correlates of adolescent risk taking. In ScAAN, she focuses on juvenile justice-related projects, and she is currently co-chair of the Miranda Rights project.

Jenn Laura Lee

Jenn is a doctoral student in the Center for Neural Science at NYU. She is the project leader for ScAAN's collaboration with Raise the Age NY. She is interested in forming more collaborations with public advocacy groups, particularly around issues of criminal justice.

Alexandra Cohen, PhD

Ali is a postdoctoral developmental cognitive neuroscientist at NYU. Her graduate studies at the intersection of law and neuroscience have extended her longstanding enthusiasm for science outreach into thoughtful advocacy for scientifically-informed policy.

EG Gaffin-Cahn, MA

EG is a doctoral student in psychology at NYU. He is a promoter of open access and uncensored government-funded research. He is also interested in building the public's trust in science as a means to improving the long-term well-being of our society.

Milenna van Dijk, MSc

Milenna is a doctoral student in the NYU Sackler Institute. She is project co-leader on ScAAN's collaboration with the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and Solitary Watch.

David Halpern

David is a doctoral student in psychology at NYU. He is interested in the intersection of public policy and cognitive/behavioral science. Within ScAAN, he is interested in using psychology to inform progressive political campaigns and to get out the vote. He is currently working with the Metropolitan Council on Housing to collect and make better use of their own data.

William F. Broderick

Billy is a doctoral student in the Center for Neural Science at NYU. His research uses computational models and human neuroimaging to understand the processing of visual information and he is an advocate for open science. He is interested in helping progressive organizations use their existing data and collect new data to better understand their supporters and campaigns.

Silvia Lopez-Guzman, MD, PhD

Silvia is a doctoral student in the Center for Neural Science at NYU, where she studies the connection between drug addiction and decision-making. She is interested in supporting advocacy groups fighting against juvenile incarceration, racial profiling, and the criminalization of drug addiction. She is working on an initiative to connect public defenders with scientific expert witnesses.

Contact us

Email us at or use the contact form if you are:
  • a scientist who wants to get involved
  • an organization that is interested in partnering with us on a project

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© Scientist Action and Advocacy Network 2016–