Big changes are coming to Congress. Not only was there a “blue wave,” there was an undeniable STEM wave of soon-to-be members of Congress with scientific and technical training.
314 Action, the organization I founded two years ago to help scientists run for office, backed many of these candidates with the help of our grassroots efforts. With the help of our network of nearly 500,000 supporters, nine of our endorsed candidates won federal office, 20 percent of the newly elected Democratic House members.
In the two years since 314 Action first sounded the call for scientists to run for office, a lot has happened in the world of pro-science advocacy. On the one hand, we’ve since seen scientists get more involved in politics by marching in the streets, advocating for candidates and—my personal favorite—stepping up to run for office in record numbers. However, on the other hand, we’ve also seen a president whose administration and party have taken a no-holds-barred approach to denying, undermining and sometimes attacking mainstream science and scientists.
The newly elected STEM leaders who are about to take office will be uniquely suited to challenge their anti-science colleagues on matters of fact. The “I’m not a scientist but …” trope may finally have an answer in Congress: “Well, I am.” For those of us who believe facts and evidence should be front and center in policymaking, this is a welcome development.
Unfortunately, our work is far from done.
While a record number of STEM candidates ran and won, opposition to mainstream science—particularly around climate change—will likely be louder than ever. Look no further than the decimation of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, which was seen as a catalyst for bipartisan legislation aimed at solving climate change. Twenty-four of the 45 Representatives in the caucus either retired or lost. Meanwhile, recent analysis found that 61 percent of Republicans in Congress have denied or raised doubts about climate change.
It is wishful thinking to believe that there will be a turnaround for members of Congress who undermine science. We can decry money in politics, which I fully agree needs reform. We can complain about science “being politicized.” But that hasn't stopped nor will it stop anti-science politicians from obfuscating on inconvenient truths that affect the bottom lines of industries that bankroll their campaigns. Electing new leaders will.
We have an opportunity to continue to focus our energy on activism, raising the voices of scientists, and electing more scientists and pro-science leaders. The results of this election cycle are just the beginning of a long-overdue awakening of a sleeping giant.
The idea of scientists running for office excited some and raised the eyebrows of others when 314 Action began its candidate recruitment efforts. But as the largest class of congresspeople with STEM backgrounds prepares to be sworn into office, I think this year’s successes offer a strong proof of concept. That’s why we are already recruiting for 2019 and beyond. This year showed that scientists who run strong campaigns and promote evidence-based policy can win.
It is my hope that scientists and STEM professionals across the country realize that they too can step up to run and win.
Our next candidate training is in Philadelphia, and we will hold more throughout the year. I encourage anyone reading this who has a STEM background and wants to run, or who knows someone who might fit that description, to sign up on our website and if possible attend a candidate training.
It should be stressed that running for office doesn’t just refer to running for Congress, which is basically an 18-month-long job interview with no guaranteed paycheck. Many municipal elections, from city council to county commissioner races, are held in odd number years and don’t require the financial and time commitment that a federal race entails. If you’ve ever considered running for office but worried about those factors, I encourage you to join us to learn how you can still run and make a difference in your community.
Over the last two years, more than 65 state and local candidates endorsed by 314 Action won their races, and these down ballot offices cannot be overlooked if we are to defend the integrity of science at all levels of government. We need to look toward state and municipal governments for more immediate action on reducing carbon emissions, enacting commonsense gun violence reduction, protecting mainstream STEM education in our schools and many other issues that can have a meaningful and lasting impact beyond just the local communities they originate from.
Now more than ever, we need scientists elected at all levels of government to spearhead these initiatives.
Those of us who believe science has a place in policymaking need to stand together. This is just the beginning; together we will give science a megaphone in Congress and beyond.