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Mace & Crown | March 19, 2018

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Scientists Are Running for Public Office

Audra Reigle | Assistant Technology Editor

Hearing that there are people who don’t believe in climate change is probably nothing new to proponents of climate change. Like every issue, there are two sides to it, and there are going to be people who understand it and deniers. However, it is a completely different issue to hear the president of the U.S. openly deny climate change. President Donald Trump’s words on climate change, as well as the words of some of his cabinet, have made scientists and engineers interested in running for public office.

314 Action is a non-profit organization that seeks to elect more leaders who come from STEM backgrounds. Their goals are to “strengthen communication among the STEM community, the public and our elected officials; educate and advocate for and defend the integrity of science and its use; provide a voice for the STEM community on social issues; promote the responsible use of data-driven fact-based approaches in public policy; and increase public engagement with the STEM community through media.” The organization also has students and faculty on more than 75 college campuses across the country, including Michigan State University, Temple University and the University of Washington.

STEM the Divide is an initiative led by 314 Action, according to Quartz. “The STEM the Divide program will provide training and guidance for political candidates with a science background, help with fundraising and keep the STEM community engaged and organized,” Quartz said. Shaughnessy Naughton (founder of 314 Action), Michael Mann (climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University) and Joe Trippi (Democratic political consultant) are leading the initiative. The initiative only supports Democratic candidates, as Naughton told Quartz that “the Democratic and Republican platforms are drastically different on the issue of climate change.”

Tracy Van Houten is one of many scientists and engineers running for public office, according to ArsTechnica. The trend started as a reaction to the Trump administration’s cabinet picks and policy decisions relating to science. The Trump administration “looks to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health by nearly $6 billion and end federal climate change programs.”

U.S. House and Senate members historically come from backgrounds in law, business or public service, and not many scientists and engineers seek public office. There are not many people currently in Congress that have backgrounds in science: Bill Foster (D-IL), who is a physicist, and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) who has a background in microbiology.

In addition to Foster and Slaughter, there is also a chemist in the House of Representatives, according to the Congressional Research Service. There are also eight engineers, seven of whom are in the House and one in the Senate.

By at least trying to run for office and getting a position in government, those scientists and engineers are still getting information about climate change and its effects out to the American people. Even if scientists and engineers running for office do not get elected, just being able to get out there and get their message out could make a difference.