Scientists get political

Originally published Feb. 7, 2017 on Planet in Crisis

Science shouldn’t be a political issue. For a long time scientists tended to stay in the lab or out in the field rather than go into politics where the line between facts and lies has become increasingly blurry.

But there is something of a political awakening among scientists going on at the moment. Rather than argue about politics in the face of the current reality, scientists are enacting a new tactic. They are planning to fight back.

“The idea that [scientists] should be above the fray has been slowly unraveling as researchers realize that their own aloofness may largely be to blame for public disregard for the evidence on issues like climate change or vaccine safety,” Amy Harmon and Henry Fountain wrote in a piece for the New York Times.  “In the era of Trump, some say it could finally come completely apart.”

It started with plans to follow in the footsteps of the nation’s women and march on Washington in the name of science. Facebook pages for sister marches around the country soon popped up after. The data is set for April 22, 2017, Earth Day.

But other scientists have set their sights higher than that, realizing the only way to control the future of science research in America is to have a seat at the table. Paleo-ecologist Jacquelyn Gill from Maine and Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen from California both intend to run for Congress in 2018. For those who wish to follow in their footsteps, the organization 314 Action is hosting training sessions aimed at scientists and engineers thinking about getting into politics.

“I’m not sure I’m the best vehicle for this,” Dr. Eisen, told the New York Times.“But if we want to defend the role of science in policy making, scientists need to run for office.”

After all, if Trump can get into politics with no political experience anyone can! (That’s the American DreamTM right?)

The change won’t happen all at once, of course.

“Right now it’s mostly talking about what to do,” Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Environment at the University of Arizona, told the Times. “We’re scientists — we tend to plan very carefully what we do and then we try to do it well. But certainly there’s an elevated sense that this is very real.”