Science and politics

Scientists are not generally political.  They like data.  Biologists study molecules, cells and organisms in order to discover new things.  We creatively design tests to seek the truth. We spend time teaching, funding our work or thinking/talking about science.

Several factors are pushing scientists to consider political engagement in the US. A paucity of funding for basic research by the National Institutes of Health has led to “more burden and less support” for young scientists. Changes in immigration policies have made retention and recruitment of talented foreign students and postdocs more difficult.  our ability to recruit  A non-profit 314 action recently launched to engage scientists in the political system and encourage scientists to run for office.  In fact, Michael Eisen, a scientist in California, intends to run for senate in 2018. Rush Holt, a physicist, represented his district in NJ for 16 years in the House of Representatives and is now the CEO of AAAS.

In CT, I have seen first hand how political engagement can positively impact scientists. In 2005, CT passed legislation led by now CT Senator Chris Murphy to fund stem cell biology in CT after President George Bush banned embryonic stem cell research access. This program has improved research interactions between Yale, Wesleyan and UConn.  As a recipient of awards from these programs, I can attest to the impact it has had on my own research program.  

I agree with 314 Action’s founder, Shaughnessy Naughton that “to elevate science’s place in government, politics can’t be avoided”.  And as we have seen in the past few months and years, the place of science in government has serious implications for the innovation and impact scientists can have in the world.