When we asked Patrick Madden – a pioneering computer scientist out of New York State – how everything’s going on his end at the start of our call, the response was definitely not what we expected to hear.
“Oh, well a tornado just tore through the area. The power’s out in a lot of places, there’s a fair bit of damage – but you know, it’s all good,” he said, nonchalantly. Talk about remaining calm under pressure.
Madden is one of the 5,000 STEM professionals that have looked upon the ascendancy of President Trump, and the emboldening of his anti-science Republican colleagues, with a mixture of horror and outrage. Deciding that he could no longer just stand by and watch, he’s working with 314 Action and running for Congress in New York’s 22nd district in the upcoming midterms.
Sitting down with IFLScience, he told us why he thinks change isn’t just necessary – at this point, it’s inevitable.
“After the election, I just stared at the ceiling for a couple of weeks on end,” Madden explains.
“I’ve long been politically aware, and I’m a progressive, I’m a liberal guy. There are Republicans and conservatives that I can communicate with and respect and understand. Trump, though, is a completely different animal.”
“I do not believe he is a Republican. He is out for himself and his cronies, and he is bringing the very worst of human nature to the forefront. He is engaging in Olympic-class lying.”
Madden notes that if the election would have gone to someone like [John] Kasich, or even Ted Cruz – “I’m no fan, mind you” – he said that, despite his major disagreements with them, he could have lived under their presidencies. Trump, however, is “anti-fact”.
“And it’s not just attacks on the scientific community,” Madden says. “He’s going after the mainstream press, he’s going after judges – he’s a con man, he’s a fraud, he’s a hoodlum, and a grafter. He has poisoned American politics.”
Madden is one of the few scientists whose research and occupation isn’t directly threatened by the Trump administration. “My scientific field is solid,” he explains. He says that he’s safe from the “savages”.
As a groundbreaking computer scientist that has one foot in the practical world and one in the abstract world of theory, he helps to design the world’s most advanced computer chip technology and circuitry.
“My work is really about integrative circuit design,” he tells us. “The stuff that lives in cellphones, computers, and TVs. All of this has got better in the last 20 years because we are all looking at hard problems, and we put our heads together and figure things out.”
“I’m running for office as a scientist. Collaboration, and looking for solutions to problems, and improving things based on facts – it’s no different from what I do already, from what I’ve been doing for 25 years.”
“Climate scientists have a harder sell,” he notes. He’s not wrong – despite the insurmountable pile of increasingly detailed evidence linking human activity to the changing climate and environment, for most Americans, the phenomenon isn’t in their faces – it’s not visceral enough for them to care to accept.
Climate scientists have a harder story to tell, and with so many well-funded climate deniers popping out of the woodwork, they have a truly Sisyphean task before them – but everybody has a cellphone.
“People know without any question that the cellphone they have today is better than one 5-10 years ago. That’s the scientific community. That is what we do, and people trust it. Now I’m taking that to Congress.”
“Right now, congress is overrun with lawyers, whose job is to argue their position. So all they do is just argue, no matter the facts,” he adds. “I’m not an ideologue, I’m a practical guy. I look for solutions and find stuff that works – it’s that simple.”
Madden points out that this election was somewhat “hacked over the Internet,” referring to the Russian cyber-meddling. He laments the fact that there are a few legislators in Congress “whose technological prowess stops short of setting the clock on their VCR.”
“Contrary to what some legislators think, the Internet is more than just cats on YouTube.” Madden’s considerable technological expertise will undoubtedly be a huge shot in the arm in this regard.
He won’t be leaving other scientists behind as he runs, however. From environmental researchers to medical experts to space scientists, he hopes his campaign, if successful, will allow him to back them up and defend them too.
“I have friends that work at NASA, and they are unbelievably talented people. If they’re concerned about global warming, I will take their word for it,” he tells us. “My campaign will support the folks who will have the oil companies coming at them guns blazing.”
Madden’s motivation, however, is far from just the protection and advocacy of science. Trump’s administration has been unprecedented in its assault on the American people, particularly the less well-off and minority groups.
“I have Hispanic ancestry, and friends. I have friends who are Muslim, friends who have disabilities, friends who are women – Trump is actively going after all these people that I care about,” he tells IFLScience.
“I’ve had friends and colleagues who come from every kind of background, who have given me encouragement and help and support, and I owe so many people so much for the life I’ve got.
“I’m just a poor kid from Detroit. I work hard, but I did not do this on my own. Lots of people have my back, lots of people have done good things for me,” he adds.
“Trump is going after the sort of folks that stood up for me. So I feel like I have to stand up for them. That’s the fire in my belly here.”
His opponent will be one Claudia Tenney, who Madden describes as a “Trump apologist”. According to FiveThirtyEight, she has voted with Trump 100 percent of the time, and often backs up his policies, actions, and belligerence with aplomb.
Tenney has voted for the widely-panned American Health Care Act, has voted to allow Internet providers to sell data to their customers, and has stood by Trump regarding the Comey firing. Unsurprisingly, Madden says he will “happily run against her.”
He’ll certainly need help, though – as will all of 314 Action’s candidates. Donations matter, and his opponents have a considerably larger war chest when it comes to elections.
“American politics to a large extent are bought and sold,” Madden says. “It’s a rigged game.”
He suggests that there are plenty of rational, decent folks out there – even Republicans that voted for Trump in 2016 – that will see his practical, knowledgeable, and community-focused story and empathize with it. If enough of them sign onto his campaign, then there’s a seriously good chance he’ll flip the district.
“Can I promise to solve every problem within a week? No – but I would be looking for solutions and compromises instead of trying to pad my wallet.”
Toward the end of our conversation, Madden circles back to the reason that is driving him to enter the political melee in the first place. Science is under attack, of course, but that’s not the only thing that’s under threat here.
“Trump is attacking people that don’t really have the ability to defend themselves,” he stressed. “Enough. These folks have their rights, they have a lot of decent people that recognize that something is seriously broken – and, now, they have me.”
“Right now, we have a President who reads the National Enquirer, and just underneath a story about Sasquatch he finds one that influences his economic policy,” Madden points out. “This is going to be a rough ride – but there are far more decent people out there that are awake and paying attention than people might realize.”
“Things look bleak now, but there will be a turning point. We may be able to get our hands back on the wheel, get some more control – and survive this.”