The midterm elections are approaching. Most of the conversations are about Congress and the Conservatives, but some of the more important and underappreciated races affect people’s daily lives. Positions such as town supervisor, school board member, or county commissioner are some of the more 500,000 state and municipal offices in the United States that oversees complex policies, including science-related issues including climate change, health care and reproductive selection. Positions nationwide spend $3.2 trillion in taxpayer money each year, many of which are held by people who deny facts, data, and even reality itself when crafting policy.
In the current environment of school boards banning books, municipal leaders shunning public health best practices, and state leaders enacting strict abortion bans, STEM professionals and data-driven policy makers can and should Run for a local office. Many of these jobs are not full time. A science-driven professional can be a government employee while pursuing a career as an engineer, professor of biology, or physician. There is almost no problem facing our country that would not benefit from having more Data-driven policy makers in the public service.
That’s why the organization I founded, 314 Action, launched the call for Scholars to run for state and municipal offices. It’s time to think running now – to think science in pursuit of service. We offer tools to match your interests with a suitable elected office. We guide you through different steps of the election process, whether when you choose a cashier and file your papers that you intend to run, or when you reach out to voters and organize volunteers. For a first-time candidate, the process can seem daunting, and our tool breaks it down into a step-by-step process that is easy to follow and achieve success.
In addition to building our community of donor scientists, 314 Action has become a campaign incubator for scientists running for office. One of the organization’s first initiatives was to organize training sessions for candidates, teaching scholars how to successfully launch a campaign and get their message across. And the We just launched a new effort To help get scholars off the sidelines and into state legislatures and municipal offices.
While the debate among the scientific community about how much scientists are involved in politics is not new, now, more than ever, there is a need for a support system for STEM candidates.
I should know.
When I ran for Congress, I knew how to become a chemist, but I didn’t know much about being a candidate for public office. It was 2014, and Congress was voting for the 1,000th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, instead of working to make health care more accessible. Gun violence continues to claim 40,000 American lives annually, yet
Congress had banned nearly all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from collecting data on gun violence. And although climate change is recognized as a clear threat by our military and scientific institutions, many politicians still campaign about their skepticism.
What became clear to me was that these were not problems that science alone could solve. Science has already told us to look at the data, and CO2 Emissions must be reduced. This was a problem he only hoped to change policy makers and their priorities to address.
Although I didn’t win my race, what I learned is that it takes more than passion to succeed in electoral politics. You need a network. You need campaign experience. You need someone to show you how to turn your analytical skills into a successful campaign.
Having a STEM leader in an elected office can move the needle and give context, reasoning, and qualifying argument for evidence-based policy rather than ignorance or guesswork. Examples abound at the state and municipal levels.
In California, state assemblyman Luz Rivas is an electrical engineer and serves as chair of the Natural Resources Committee. I came and passed legislation To create an advanced temperature warning and classification system, similar to what is found in wildfires and hurricanes.
Val Arkosh, MD, MPH is the chief commissioner of Montgomery County in Pennsylvania. She has used her position and experience to deal systematically and fairly with Distribution of epidemic recovery funds To increase affordable housing, access to child care, protect open spaces and expand behavioral health operations and facilities.
Andrew Zwicker, a New Jersey senator with a Ph.D. in physics who took a position at State House in 2015, has sponsored several bills that were turned into law that make it easier for people to vote and participate in the democracy within their country.
Of course, running for office is not for everyone. Making that leap is hard work—especially if you’re coming from a hard science, as many of us learn so little about politics, public service, and the role of science in shaping society. Recognizing that we all have a civic responsibility means taking the first step: attending a school board meeting, serving on a community board, volunteering for a campaign, and voting.
This is not a new concept when you consider the culture of support that is built into some other professions. For example, law firms traditionally support their partners when one of them is running for public office because the law affects politics and policies affect the law. However, science is, or at least should be, but scientists and scientific professions do not have this kind of culture. As we work to change that, for scientists ready to take that leap, we stand ready to help. And for Americans who want a policy-making system that values science and experience, we can’t wait for you to join us in this fight by supporting our work.
The future of our country – and our planet – depends on it.
This is an opinion and analysis article, and the opinions expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily opinions Scientific American.