More Scientists Than Ever Are Running For Office. Here’s Why It Matters.

Hundreds of candidates with scientific backgrounds trading labs for legislation.

A record number of candidates with scientific backgrounds are running for office, political action committee 314 Action announced this week. After President Donald Trump's first year in office saw attacks on climate change, vaccines and women's health, researchers, engineers, and mathematicians across the country are trading labs for legislation with the help of 314 Action. The group is the latest in a growing trend of communities who hope to make changes to national policy by writing it.

"These are not people that envision themselves as politicians and build a résumé around that," 314 Action founder Shaughnessy Naughton told HuffPost. "These are people that are genuinely outraged and concerned by the direction the country is going in, especially in this administration and this Congress."

As of publication, more than 60 scientifically-focused candidates who are running for federal office in 2018 have registered with 314 Action, HuffPost reports. At least 200 have their eyes on positions in state legislatures and 200 are running for local school boards.

According to its website, 314 Action hopes to elect "more leaders who will use their training as STEM professionals to influence policy-making." The list of current Congressmen with Ph.Ds in a scientific field is short: Rep. Bill Foster from Illinois.

"The sheer number is really astonishing," Naughton told HuffPost. "We've never seen anything like this."

For his part as the lone physicist on Capitol Hill, Foster points the value of having scientists in Congress, especially when it comes time to advocate for government-funded research. In an interview with PRI, the Illinois representative explained how, historically, some of the biggest technological innovations in the U.S. have come from federal contracts.  

"When you damage long-term scientific research, it damages the economy severely but not immediately," he said. "And so you can be a hero by balancing the budget this year and never acknowledge the damage that happens decades from now when we're missing the sort of research that ultimately advances our society and saves the government a huge amount of money."

While political backlash against science did not start with the current White House, the administration has not made the field a priority. Trump recently made headlines in the scientific community for comments on climate change that the community deemed "not consistent with scientific observations from around the globe." During the 2016 presidential campaign, the then-candidate perpetuated the myth that vaccines are linked to autism, and last May, the White House announced the U.S.' withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

314 Action, named for the first three digits of Pi, is hoping more scientists on Capitol Hill will help counter any similar actions in the future.

"A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics but we're seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science," Naughton told The Atlantic in last January.  "We're losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table."

Cover image via bakdc / Shutterstock

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