In case you missed it, scientists are running for Congress. Largely thanks to the actions of the political action group 314 Action, academics from fields as diverse as cancer research and volcanology are gearing up to take on the climate change-denying acolytes of the Trump administration.
Back in June, we spoke to the masterminds behind this unprecedented drive to make American science great again. In the months since then, their efforts to get qualified scientists back into politics – precisely the opposite of what the current President is doing – has made giant strides forwards.
314 Action recently had a gathering in Washington DC of those on the frontline of the war on science, including researchers that are currently in power and those that were seeking office for the first time.
We at IFLScience thought this was a good opportunity to ask them to do what scientists are exceedingly well practiced in: peer review. This time around, the research focus was on the Trump administration, and it’s safe to say that they’re enraged, saddened, and aghast. As a result, they’re all the more emboldened to resist.
Here’s what some of them had to say.
Aerospace engineer Joseph Kopser tells us that the Trump administration's treatment of scientists remind him of the “hysterical witch hunts of yesteryear... the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Dark Ages.”
“We should be elevating the amazing works that scientists have accomplished throughout history and celebrating the continued accomplishments thereof – from Benjamin Franklin, to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, to the young men and woman who will pioneer the next great breakthrough.”
Kopser is running for TX-21, where Lamar Smith – the Republican Representative who is currrently is in charge of the embarrassingly anti-scientific House Science Committee – announced he is retiring from in 2018. If successful, Kosper said he “would restore science to its proper place... to ensure it’s viewed as a way to advance society, improve life, and enhance a greater understanding of our world.”
A Democratic congressman with a background in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and a long history of supporting scientific research, Representative Paul Tonko (NY-20) thinks we’re at a flashpoint in history.
“Not since the Scientific Revolution has there been a more important moment to stand for the basic ideas that inquiry must be free and facts and evidence matter,” he tells IFLScience.
“Our economic growth depends on investing in scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs and engineers,” he highlights, explaining that “belittling the scientific community or cutting basic research will only cede our global leadership to nations that are determined to create the products and ideas of the future.”
Wary of the infiltration of industry-backed climate deniers into the federal government, Tonko recently introduced the Scientific Integrity Act, a bill that would “put a firewall” between state-funded science “and the lobbyists and industries that work tirelessly to influence or distort the scientific findings from that work.”
Citing the EPA under Scott Pruitt, the massive proposed cuts to federal science, and the withdrawal from the Paris accords, neuroscientist Dr Hans Keirstead tells IFLScience: “At every turn it has become more and more apparent that the worst-case scenario for science is unfolding before our eyes at the hands of the President.”
“It's clear the Trump Administration has no respect for the opinions of scientists,” he notes, adding that he’s running for office and sacrificing much of his scientific career so that he can “give science a voice in the halls of power, and to push back on the attacks on science.”
This world-renowned stem cell researcher is running for Congress, and is seeking to displace Dana Rohrabacher, a high-ranking Republican member of the House Science Committee. Rohrabacher is a long-time climate change denier, and recently asked NASA if there were ever alien civilizations on Mars in the last few thousand years.
“American science has always been ‘great’ – it just hasn't had a voice in Congress lately to support or defend it,” Keirstead surmises.
A Democratic congresswoman with an education in computer science, Representative Jacky Rosen (NV-3) has spent much of her career at the Capitol fighting for STEM education rights for girls. She’s now running for Senate against Dean Heller, the senior Republican Senator from Nevada.
“From withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords to rolling back the Clean Power Plan, this administration is no ally to the scientific community,” she tells IFLScience.
Describing the White House’s plan to pull out of the Paris accords as an “abdication of American leadership,” Rosen says that the country “needs lawmakers in office who will fight for evidence-based policy solutions that address our country's most urgent challenges.”
Referencing her background, she suggests that Congress “should be encouraging individuals, especially young students, to become well-versed in STEM education and do more to highlight the many possibilities that a STEM education can provide.”
Proving that she’s happy to put her words into actions, Rosen has recently introduced two bipartisan bills to the House that fund STEM education for both young boys and girls.
“It's gone from a war on science to a war on facts,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemical scientist and 314’s founder.
“The president is instructing Federal Agencies to ignore the science behind climate change,” she adds. “This is not only a threat to environmental and social issues but also a threat to our national security.”
Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist running for Congress, has always had strong words for the federal government, and this time round was no exception.
“Using our brains is the reason for much of America’s success. If you hobble someone’s intellect – if you tell them to not use their brains – you are making people slaves to an ideology. In this case, the ideology is profit, profit, profit,” she tells us.
“We believe what we’re fighting for. We have the courage of our conviction. All the people on the other side? All they have is profit.”
Referencing the EPA, she explains that the government is systematically dismantling it. “There will be some irreparable and irreversible damage. It’ll be on their heads, but they’ll be rich enough – or they’ll be dead – so that it won’t hurt them. But it’ll hurt our kids.”
“The current EPA under Pruitt and Trump is a perversion of the organization’s fundamental mission,” she concludes.
Another Congressional candidate, Matt Longjohn – an MD who served as National Health Director for the YMCA – feels much the same way. He strongly feels that an antidote to the Trump administration’s disparaging of science is to “prioritize investment in early childhood STEM education programs,” and to “champion the success of fact-based policies.”
“America has the best universities and the brightest minds in the world; to willingly cast aside their expertise is downright irresponsible,” Congressional candidate Roger Dean Huffstetler, chemist and tech startup CEO, tells IFLScience.
Explaining that there is a huge deficit in STEM educators in American schools, he suggests that the country needs “to do a better job educating the next generation of scientists and engineers if we are to ensure that America remains the most innovative country in the world.”
Congressional hopeful Chrissy Houlahan, an engineer and Air Force Veteran, laments that “tragically, the Trump Administration has made science a partisan issue.”
“Science is, was, and always will be great. What we need to do, as a government, is support science and leave it to the scientists and science professionals.”
It cannot be overstated that these scientists are essentially giving up their life's work in order to fundamentally alter the way the US government works. Will their rebellion prove to be successful during the 2018 midterms? That, of course, depends on what kind of America you're hoping to see: one of facts or alternative facts.