President Trump’s electoral victory has left countless Americans reeling. His win and subsequent torrent of policy positions and action that fundamentally oppose scientific research and development have motivated a new group of political activists and potential candidates.
Scientists have mostly functioned outside the political arena. Scientists typically shy away from public political involvement. Shaughnessy Naughton, a cancer researcher turned business owner, founded 314 Action, a political action committee (PAC) that helps people with science backgrounds become involved in politics and run for office.
Naughton says, “It is past time for scientists to step up and get involved … because that is the only way that we are going to change the course.” She went on to add, “Traditionally, the attitude has been that science is above politics, and by getting involved in politics, it could possibly pollute science. My response to that is, ‘How’s that working for you?’”
Scientists and researchers have long expressed frustration with decreasing federal investment in research and innovation. Despite expressed policy frustration, there are only a handful of current lawmakers who come from a math or science background. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, among them there are 7 engineers, 1 physicist, 1 microbiologist, and 1 chemist.
Trump Encourages Political Participation from Scientists
An unintended consequence of Donald Trump’s hostile stance toward science, particularly climate science, has been an increased interest in politics from scientists who feel they have to do something to combat the attack on science from the White House.
Scientists have taken to the street to march in protest of the President’s unfounded position on climate change. President Trump refuses to say that he believes climate change is real and that humans contribute to it.
President Trump recently pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, breaking with the rest of the world and joining only 2 countries in their opposition to the international agreement. Soon after taking office, the President also proposed dramatic budget cuts to non-defense federal spending. Those cuts would be debilitating for researchers.
Trump’s election has prompted people like Elaine DiMasi, an experimental physicist, to run for office. She has taken a leave of absence from her job at Brookhaven National Laboratory in order to run for congress against Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY).
She said her father was “horrified” at her choice to enter politics. “He said, ‘You’re going to give up your job and be a politician?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to be a scientist with a job as a legislator working on policy.’”
She said her parents came around, and DiMasi is hoping the voters in her district will join them in supporting her and science in Washington.