Scientists Are Running For Congress Because “The Future Hangs In The Balance”

Every social struggle has a tipping point. Progress is normally made at a snail’s pace, but with certain movements – same-sex marriage, racial equality, for example – when push comes to shove, nationwide change can suddenly snap into place.

Fast-forward to 2017. The Trump administration is in power and “Alternative Facts,” climate change denial, and anti-scientific policies are the norm. Scientists have had enough, and in an unprecedented display of solidarity, have decided to run for office on a pro-science platform.

Is this the next tipping point in American society? The group coordinating this effort, 314 Action, thinks it could be.

These rebellious individuals aren’t just running on good speeches, marches, and hope. They have a genuinely good chance at changing the trajectory of the United States – and its founders sat down with IFLScience to talk about how they plan to do so.

“The future really hangs in the balance. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true,” Ted Bordelon, 314 Action’s director of communications, tells us. “When you have an administration this openly hostile to scientific facts, you need to stand up to it – and who better to stand up to it than scientists?”
The scientific uprising began in earnest sometime between Trump’s election in November and his inauguration in January of this year. Almost immediately after taking the oath of office, the President’s anti-scientific rhetoric was transformed into devastating action.

Federal scientists were hit with a communications blackout, effectively censoring them. Soon afterwards, a proposed 2018 budget threatened them with draconian, historic funding cuts. Climate change denial was once again in vogue.

Inspired by the Women’s March – the largest demonstration in US history – rogue scientists took their protestations from Twitter to the streets during the global March For Science.

The Resistance – as anti-Trump Americans are often referred to – is a diverse cornucopia of American citizens; it includes people from almost every single demographic. Academics and scientists, however, appear to be one of a few groups that have a practical modus operandi, a plan of action that will force a change in the corridors of power.

In terms of the Resistance, then, this makes 314 Action the tip of the proverbial spear.

“The goal is to bring about change – real change,” Bordelon says.

The group was launched just this past January. Its aim is to get as many scientists as possible elected to Congress in the 2018 midterms, while displacing as many anti-science lawmakers as possible. School boards, local councils, and committees are also in their crosshairs.

“We exist not just because there’s been an assault on science,” Joshua Morrow, 314 Action’s executive director and a veteran political campaign manager, tells IFLScience. “There’s been an assault on facts.”

In the last few months, the President has placed climate change deniers like Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt in charge of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), respectively – groups they’ve long threatened to destroy. America is poised to leave the Paris agreement.

“The attacks on science certainly didn’t start with Trump, but he has been a powerful catalyst,” Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemical scientist and entrepreneur, and 314’s founder, tells IFLScience.

Emboldened by their dominance of Congress, House Republicans began to author bills that would shutter the ED and the EPA once and for all. The catastrophic GOP-authored American Health Care Act (AHCA) has just made it through the House, which if enacted into law by the Senate would strip healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans.

To add insult to injury, Trump still hasn’t appointed a scientific advisor. If anyone is ever appointed to this role, it would be perhaps the most Sisyphean task in human history.
In the midst of this all, 314 Action grew from strength to strength beyond the founders’ wildest dreams.

“The one good thing about this election is that it has awoken a sleeping giant,” Naughton says.

“5,000 STEM professionals have reached out to us to specifically run for office. That’s huge,” Bordelon adds. “When we launched 314 back in January with a skeleton crew, we hoped to get 1,000 people by April. This blew our expectations out of the water.”

The group’s name was co-opted from numerical Pi, a curious number that appears all around us in nature and our everyday lives.

“Like Pi, science is all around us,” the group’s mission statement reads. Now that thousands of scientists across the US have joined their movement, this sentiment is particularly apt.

Asked about the caliber of the scientists actually running for Congress, Naughton quickly responds: “They’re awesome!”

This isn’t difficult to agree with. You’ve got California’s Jess Phoenix, an appropriately named, globe-trotting, thrill-seeking volcanologist who comes from a family of FBI agents; then there’s New York’s Patrick Madden, a pioneering computer scientist with a mastery of mathematical wizardry; or how about Texas’ Jason Westin, an award-winning cancer and stem cell researcher?

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