In 2018, you may see more scientists on the ballot for local and national elections — or at least that's the hope of a newly formed group called 314 Action.
The political action committee (PAC), named after the first three digits of pi, was created to support scientists who want to run for political offices. Founder Shaughnessy Naughton told the Washington Post that its goal is to connect people with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to the expertise and funds needed to run a successful campaign.
“There's nothing in our Constitution that says we can only be governed by attorneys,” Naughton told the Post. “Especially now, we need people with scientific backgrounds that are used to looking at the facts and forming an opinion based on the facts.”
While chemists, biologists and the like may not normally enter the political fray, Naughton said more of them need to take the leap in part due to President Donald Trump publicly disputing scientific evidence on topics such as human-caused climate change and vaccine safety.
“A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics, but we’re seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science,” Naughton told The Atlantic. “We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table.”
Naughton ran for Congress as a Democrat in Pennsylvania in 2014 and 2016 but lost both times — losses she blames on being an outsider, and as such she was locked out of the Democratic donor network. She formed this PAC to show candidates how to run and connect them with its donor network.
Interest certainly seems to be rising among academic types. More than 5,500 scientists — 22 of them Nobel Prize winners — signed an open letter to President Trump urging him to "adhere to high standards of scientific integrity and independence in responding to current and emerging public health and environmental threats." Several hundred scientists at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which is one of the largest scientific conferences in the country, attended a nearby rally protesting President Trump's position on climate change. And a "March for Science" is being planned in Washington.
Why isn't science better represented in government?
Of our 435 representatives in Congress, only a handful have a scientific background, as Motherboard reports:
Currently, there are just a few Congressional representatives with backgrounds in science and math, including Democrats Bill Foster, who is a physicist; Jerry McNerney, a mathematician; Louise Slaughter, who has an undergraduate degree in microbiology; Seth Moulton, who has a Bachelor’s in physics; and Jacky Rosen, who is a computer scientist. There are also several doctors in Congress, many of whom are Republicans.
Historically, scientists haven't exactly chomped at the bit to run for office, and those who did had varying levels of success. In a 2012 story that asked why Americans don't elect more scientists, the New York Times accused Americans of dismissing the STEM community as elitist or impractical:
One reason is that an abstract, scientific approach to problems and issues often leads to conclusions that are at odds with religious and cultural beliefs and scientists are sometimes tone-deaf to the social environment in which they state their conclusions. A more politically sensitive approach to problems and issues, on the other hand, often leads to positions that simply don’t jibe with the facts, no matter how delicately phrased. Examples as diverse as stem cell research and the economic stimulus abound.
But the science community may be having a change of heart under the new White House administration. “What we’re finding is there’s a feeling among scientists that they’ve got to do something now,” veteran political consultant Joe Trippi told Motherboard. “I think there’s a real sense of alarm that says it’s going to have to take political leadership to make the case for science, we can’t just make it from the lab.”