Science Under Assault: Scientists Mobilize to Run For Office

Science Under Assault: Scientists Mobilize to Run For Office

That science is under assault by Republicans and the Trump administration is clear. One of the unintended consequences of the GOP’s hostility is that scientists are mobilizing to run for office — and they have some significant help.

Recognizing the difficulties of scientists who enter the public arena, chemist and cancer researcher Shaughnessy Naughton founded a new Political Action Committee (PAC) with the goal of providing her fellow scientists with all the support they need to win elections.  The name of the PAC is — what else? — 314 ActionFor those of us who aren’t science nerds, the first three digits in the mathematical symbol Pi are 314. To emphasize the point, the organization will hold its first online information session on 3/14, which is international Pi Day.

While the assault on science has been a focus of the Republican Party for a long time, Trump has greatly ratcheted up the effort in his first few days in office. On Tuesday, the administration banned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from updating the public on its findings and put a halt to any new contracts or grants for research. Trump also instituted a vetting process on scientists’ research, requiring that it be reviewed by the administration before findings can be published or presented to the public.

Doug Ericksen, an operative on Trump’s EPA transition team, told NPR:

We’ll take a look at what’s happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that’s going to reflect the new administration. 

It’s ominous words and actions like these that ensure that races for elective office will be flooded with newcomers seeking to challenge the influence of the current administration.

The founder of 314 Action, Shaughnessy Naughton, has personal experience with the difficulties of scientists running for office. After all, scientists are not known to be political animals and, in fact, have often had a certain animosity toward what is seen as a dirty business.

In 2014, Naughton entered the primary race in Pennsylvania for U.S. Congress, but was running against the candidate backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She told the Washington Post:

I was locked out of a lot of traditional Democratic donors. We need to have an organization that people can reach out to say, ‘I want to run, can you help me?’ as well as having a strong base of people who care about these issues and to have them organizing their contributions that way.

A new initiative created by 314 Action will train scientists in how to run a campaign and connect them with the financial resources necessary to be successful. The initiative is called ‘STEM the Divide’ — standing for science, technology, engineering and math but appropriately invoking the controversy over scientific stem-cell research. Naughton said:

There’s nothing in our Constitution that says we can only be governed by attorneys. Especially now, we need people with scientific backgrounds that are used to looking at the facts and forming an opinion based on the facts.

Facts. Not the ‘alternative facts’ of George Orwell and Kellyanne Conway.

The issues that 314 Action has prioritized, according to the PAC’S website, are climate change, gun violence, clean energy, and STEM education — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Based on the Emily’s List model — which supports and promotes women running for office — STEM has the potential of bringing a whole lot of non-politicians into the governing arena. STEM is targeting not just the U.S. Congress, but also offices at the state level, where scientists often fight for funds and against restrictive regulations. STEM allies have already had one success. In 2015, they supported a winning candidate for the New Jersey State Assembly — Princeton physicist Andrew Zwicker.

While the group has aligned themselves with Democrats, as the more sympathetic of the two parties, it’s goal is to be outside of the control of either. If they continue to succeed, this could be the start of something big.

Feature photo, public domain file photo created by NASA.

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