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The U.S. Has Never Ever Seen This Many Scientists Run For Office

Welcome to the "Year of the Scientist."

CARLY CASSELLA
8 FEB 2018
 

2018 is looking like it's going to be the "Year of the Scientist," as more scientists than ever before are preparing to run for political office. Of the historic 455 Democratic challengers already filed to run for Congress in 2018, nearly 60 of them have STEM backgrounds.

 

According to Shaugnessy Naughton, founder of the pro-science organization 314 Action, the movement is long overdue.

"I think the skills that scientists bring to governing are ones that we desperately need right now," Naughton told Science AF.

"The collaboration skills, the fact-based approach to decision making, and the focus on problem solving rather than ideology are needed not only in Congress but at all levels of government."

Naughton founded 314 Action to bring science, fact and reason back to government. And the best way to achieve that noble goal? Elect more scientists.

"I certainly would love to go from a world where we have politicians who when questioned about climate change reply, 'I don't know I'm not a scientist' to a world where people respond, 'Trust me I'm a doctor,'" Naughton told Science AF.

Dr. Jason Westin is a Congressional candidate who could help make this dream a reality. The cancer doctor and researcher is running in Texas' 7th Congressional District and has been endorsed not only by 314 Action, but also by Luke Skywalker himself.

"Me being a scientist is a key part of my story and my campaign," Westin told us over the phone.

"There are no cancer doctors in Congress, there are no cancer researchers in Congress and there are not enough scientists in general in Congress."

He's not wrong. Right now in Congress there is only one PhD physicist, one microbiologist and a handful of engineers. The rest are pretty much all lawyers.

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"The disrespect and politicization of basic facts and science is dangerous for our country," said Westin.

"The reasons for electing more scientists are becoming increasingly clear with every news story that comes out about some unqualified politician who has been nominated to a scientific post."

 

Since taking office, President Trump has waged an unprecedented war against science, fact and reason. In just one year, the Trump administration successfully rescinded a number of key environmental, health and safety regulations without the required scientific review.

The President has also called climate change a hoax, removed the US from the Paris accord, nominated unqualified candidate after unqualified candidate to important scientific positions, and has left many of the top science advisory positions in the White House completely empty.

"I think that the Trump administration has given every indication that they are going to offend and disregard science, science advisors and the truth," Naughton said.

"And that will continue to motivate people who care about this."

The numbers certainly suggest Naughton is right. 314 Action, which is the only organization created to help elect scientists, has received interest from more than 7,000 potential candidates and has trained nearly 1,500 of them.

"We are excited about getting more scientists out of the lab and into public office in 2018," said Naughton in a statement.

"Our endorsed candidates' expertise and insights are needed like never before in our public debates."

Meet the candidates

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The candidates that 314 Action has endorsed have diverse backgrounds and interests, and many of them are running against climate deniers and representatives who have repeatedly voted in line with the Trump administration.

Here are a few of them:

 

Joseph Kopser

Rocket scientist

District: Texas' 21st Congressional District

Joseph Kopser is bringing all that he has learned as an engineer, entrepreneur and veteran to his race.

"The thing I do the best is build teams and coalitions, because no great discovery in science was ever one person," Kopser told Science AF.

"In Congress at the moment. Nobody wants to work together. Everything has become tribal. Nobody is sharing ideas and everything is about me, myself and I. That's gotta end."

Dr. Mai Khanh Tran

Pediatrictian

District: California's 39th Congressional District

Mai Khanh Tran is a woman, an immigrant and a pediatrician who declared her candidacy after she saw the immediate impact of the 2016 election on her patients and their families.

"Ed Royce is the Republican incumbent that I am up against in my district. He has been in office for almost 25 years. So I find that I have been listening to the needs of my patients for the same amount of time he has been in Congress ignoring them," Tran told us.

"I think when it comes to the issue of health care, I think physicians who are on the frontlines will be the most qualified to help."

 

Dr. Hans Keirstead

Stem Cell Researcher

District: California's 48th District

Another candidate in California, Dr. Hans Keirstead is running with a similar message to Mai Khanh Tran. As a researcher and businessman, Keirstead says he has a unique set of skills that are ideally suited to the deficits of the House.

"A compelling factor was my realization that there is nobody in the House of Representatives with a deep broad understanding of science or the medical health care system. No one," Keirstead told Science AF.

"That is extraordinary to me. It's one-fifth of our economy and there is nobody there that deeply understands it."

Kristopher Larsen

Rocket Scientist

District: Colorado's 2nd District

Unlike many other scientists who are running for office, rocket scientist Kristopher Larsen is well-versed in politics. Larsen splits his time being a scientist and the Mayor of Nederland, a small town of 1,500 tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. For him and his district, climate change is an extremely pressing issue.

"Personally, I am a fan of what I am calling an Apollo level effort for climate change," Larsen told Science AF, referring to the space program of the '60s and '70s.

"We need to pull all of our scientific, technical and engineering resources to the goal of getting our country off fossil fuels by 2035."                                                                 

Since 314 Action's inception in January of last year, enthusiasm for the organization's message has been staggering. In that time, Naughton says their network has grown from 40,000 members to a whopping 400,000 members.

The organization's endorsed candidates have been covered in several major publications, including Time magazine, The Atlantic, The Independent, Scientific American and The LA Times.

"I want to take that energy from the March for Science and bring it back to our communities to hold our elected leaders accountable, especially when they are basing policy on anything other than facts and reason," Naughton said.

"We really are seeing all that energy put to really good use by our network, our candidates and supporters."