Drafting Scientists into Politics
January 11, 2017
Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.
Isn’t that part of what makes politics so dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations? How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating. Because as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.
Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.
Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.
– Barack Obama, Farewell address, 1/10/17
As progressives lament the impending inauguration of an administration that rejects the idea of human-caused climate change, a newly launched group says we should stop holding our breath waiting for politicians to embrace science. Instead, scientists should become politicians themselves.
The group—named 314 Action after the first three digits of the number pi—has a mission to encourage politically engaged scientists to run for office at all levels of government, to connect them with traditional sources of campaign funding, and to get as many scientists elected during the 2018 campaign cycle as possible. The hope is that with more politician scientists speaking sense on issues such as climate change, they will serve as a counterbalance to the anti-science policies that have arisen mainly on the right.
“Running for Congress in 2014 as a chemist and a breast cancer researcher, I felt like I was locked out of a lot of the traditional networks of Democratic donors,” Shaughnessy Naughton, the board president of 314 Action, told me. “It’s a hinderance for people coming from nontraditional political backgrounds.”