Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That includes you scientists. Scientists need to run for office. Period. Whatever party you have joined, if one at all, Americans need your habits of mind, your practices, and the attitudes you have toward evidence as scientists.
Let’s face it, the Trump administration has clarified something for us: The war on science by the “merchants of doubt” and the “armies of the night” is full on, well-funded, organized, and given cover by popular resentment. While the resentment is understandable, most people don’t distrust scientists because of what scientists do. They distrust distant and aloof people. They distrust people who aren’t engaged in the day to day. They distrust people who they think condescend to them. And sometimes, too often maybe, scientists have fed this narrative by dismissing people’s legitimate concerns. They think of many scientists as wizards behind the curtain or elites in the ivory tower. That situation can’t hold. And it shouldn’t.
Two years ago, I ran for a position as a supervisor in my little township of Ferguson Township. The skills my education and continued work at a university help me as an elected official. I learned and practice systems thinking, quantitative reasoning, public communication, and evidence gathering. Those skills are coupled to a respect for deliberative and transparent practices, respect for individuals, and a hearty dose of skepticism. My bet is that many of you are in a similar boat but might wonder if you can or should run for office.
It’s hard. People might attack you. It’s time consuming and processes that are allegedly linear most certainly aren’t. You will make mistakes and people will think you’re an idiot. They’ll also see your commitment to the community as an asset. They’ll respect you for your convictions. It will make some of your research life slow down. But it’s a chance for you to be an educator in a way that the classroom and peer-review never can be. It is tangible, practical, and rewarding work.
Right now is the time to act. If not you then who? If not now then when? We can see all too clearly that a small group of thoughtful, committed corporate doubt merchants can change the world for the worse.
With off-year elections coming up and the mid-terms next year, you need to get moving. So to help you out I’ll put a plug her for 314 Action (with whom I am not affiliated). They are an organization trying to recruit scientists to run. Extension services and political parties will help you too. But get to it, take a look, carefully consider your role on this changing planet, the skills and values you bring, and take the plunge if you are so called.
We are calling you.