Ahead of the March for Science Saturday, about 100 scientists met at American University in Washington, DC for a training session to learn how they can run for office to bring science, reason, and logical thinking back to politics.
"It shows a level of seriousness to show up here," Shaughnessy Naughton, executive director of 314 Action, the group that will support many of these candidates. "It's scary taking that step from being a private citizen to putting your name out there to run for office."
I caught up with eight potential candidates—some of them already have seats in mind and have announced their candidacies, others are simply testing the waters—about why they want to leave the lab bench for the bully pulpit.
Dr. Kathie Allen, Family Physician, Utah 3rd District
I wanted to bring integrity and ethics back to Washington, DC and throughout the country.
I'm running in the third congressional district in Utah in the seat that has been occupied by Jason Chaffetz. I think that the value of a family physician in government is not only do we have the science background to analyze and we're able to take complex data and explain it in simple terms, but my 30 years as a primary care physician gives me the perspective of compassion because I've worked with people as patients who had no insurance, no resources, who had to make tough decisions about whether to seek healthcare or feed their families.
I'm running because I think those kinds of issues need to be addressed in a scientific and compassionate manner. Chaffetz announced he would not run at 2018 and throughout this training, I have to admit I became distracted during the afternoon because rumors were flying that he was not only not going to run but he was going to resign soon. This all happened really as I was being dropped off at the curb for this trip to Washington, DC. So at this point in the week, I have a lot of questions. But I will say my message to our constituents has not changed. The desire to bring ethics and integrity back to Washington and to apply the skills. And if there's a special election, I'm more ready than anybody else.
Patrick Madden, Computer Science Professor, Binghamton University, NY 22nd District
My research area is in integrated computer design and theoretical computer science. I believe in the scientific method. You get facts, you think carefully about them, and then you go and do it. So my expertise is chip design and circuits and your cell phone gets better and many things get better because of the way we do things. I'm progressive by nature but I'm not an ideologue. I'm not nuts about it.
Why am I doing this? My God, we're totally fucked. I probably shouldn't say that. Actually, wait a minute. Yeah, we're totally fucked. We have this clown circus in DC, and it's a batch of lawyers and if lawyers were going to fix the problem we'd already be living in paradise.
The incumbent in my district is Claudia Tenney She's a Trumper, she's anti science, gun nutty, rah rah rah kill all the people, supportive of the Muslim ban, bad on net neutrality, all the wrong things. This is a race I can run against somebody who I politically am totally opposed to.
I would love to just teach my class and do my research. It's a good gig. But if I don't run, who will? I've got kids. I would not like them to die in a nuclear fireball. I'd like like to not die in a nuclear fireball myself. This is a big deal. I like my job, I like what I do, but there comes a time where you've got to step up. If I don't, I will sit here the rest of my life and say I shirked my responsibility. I'm going to officially announce May 1 and then the train will leave the station.
Rob Samples, Healthcare IT Consulting, Des Moines, Iowa
I guess I'm the T part of STEM. Our focus is on health information and health data, and we've really been able to identify ways to do healthcare better. This latest election cycle motivated me as well as a lot of other qualified people to do something, whether that's to run for office or find another candidate that aligns with my values and help them win.
I'd like to run for Congress, I think it would be a big step and there's a lot of opportunity in Iowa. What's happened over the last couple months is really qualified candidates are coming out of the woodwork and I'm still deciding if I'm in that category, but I'd really like to go after a congressional seat. But I'll start off at a local level maybe a county supervisor.
Vincent Chen, Oncology PhD student, Georgetown University
I would always annoy my friends with politics, talk about politics nonstop. I have convinced some friends to switch over to Democrat or switch over their political beliefs on some issues. I've always had some wanting desire to run for office because i feel we're privileged to live in a democracy and i want to take full advantage of that fact. Ideally I want to run for Congress and get on the science and technology committee, but I want to start out either locally or with a government bureaucracy job in the FDA to help boost my credentials.
We have these people running the country making decisions based off of ignorance or greed because of oil companies that might pay them off to say things that aren't true, or they might genuinely believe global warming isn't real. That type of incompetence isn't well tolerated in science.
Tanya Mitropoulos, prospective Cognitive Psychology PhD student, Arlington, Virginia
I work for a software company but I plan to do a PhD in cognitive psychology, trying to understand why society's thought process has gone in the direction I feel it has.
I am considering running for office or doing something in policy down the road. At this point, people seem hostile to the idea that science can help improve the country. A few decades ago, scientists were celebrities and we've gotten so far from that but I think we can bring it back there or in that direction. I assume that the field I'm going into will help shed light on the area I can have the most impact in.
Danielle Meitiv, Climate Researcher, Montgomery County, Maryland
I've worked with NOAA, the EPA, the World Bank. My work recently has been not in the lab, I've been translating science and making it relevant to the general public. I've always been an activist. My mom was a union activist and an outspoken feminist. She taught me you stand up for yourself and other people. With trump, we need people who will stand up for the truth, stand up for reality. I think we need more everyday people—not just career politicians but people living the challenges that working people live every day.
As scientists you are trained to only talk about your expertise, so I can talk about climate. But actually as a scientist i have all these skills i've learned and those skills translate to politics and make me a credible politician.
Jason Krizan PhD, Materials science and pharmaceutical research, Elkton Maryland
I've never been this involved in the political process. But with the recent changes in the political climate, I don't want these changes to normalize certain behaviors. I'm married to a social scientist so I approach it from the hard science side of things but tempered by the understanding of the social sciences. I live in Maryland and on the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware, so I have to look back at which offices are up for reelection in 2020 and I'm also open to moving districts to consider the opportunities. If you can call truth, honesty, and transparency a platform, then maybe have one.
Patricia Zornio, rare and undiagnosed disease medical research, Stanford University, Colorado Senate
For a year and a half I've been thinking about it. Just researching how do you become a candidate? What does it mean? What's coming up for reelection? I made an Excel spreadsheet because I am a researcher and that's what you do.
Bringing science and observation-based policy to the table is critical but other things make it feel like a civic duty. I'm young, I'm a female, I'm a scientist, but I come from a rural area. When Donald Trump was in the primary process, people started reaching out and saying 'you understand a little of both sides.' I have a seat in mind and now i'm reaching out to voters in Colorado and asking—would you consider supporting someone like me? What are your hesitations?
I'm approaching my campaign scientifically. This is naturally how i am. When I talk to other people, they say 'How did you figure that out if you're not already in politics?' and I say, 'I researched it, I read a lot of laws.'
You wouldn't believe the unsolicited advice I'm receiving. I'll be told, cut your hair, grow your hair. Wear a dress, don't wear a dress. Wear heels, don't wear heels. I don't know how much of that is because I'm a woman, how much of that is because I'm younger, or any of that. I think it is sometimes helpful, but it's also hard. I've gone 31 years in my life not being told how long or short to wear my hair. I wanted to know, so I asked the question: Is there data that shows what works for women and what doesn't? It sounds like we don't have a lot of information on that to date. Society doesn't really know.