Science, politics, and speaking up for change
In the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, STEM majors in the U.S. were less likely than their academic peers to vote, according to John Hopkins University. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that science is political. Progress moves faster when political leaders believe in climate change, trust the guidance of health officials, and value fundamental human rights.
More and more, scientists are embracing the connection between science, politics, and social justice and are using their diverse technical skills to rally around important causes.
SCIENTISTS SPEAKING UP FOR CHANGE
In August, for example, a team of academics from various institutions published the now-viral essay titled “ Responses to 10 Common Criticisms of Anti-Racism Action in STEM.” The working document was created alongside a resource-rich website intended to guide individuals struggling to convince their department or company that anti-racism initiatives matter.
And at John Hopkins University, Ph.D. student Talia Henkle and members of the Johns Hopkins Science Policy Group (SPG) launched a campaign to get their peers to vote in the 2020 U.S. general election.
The STEMulate the Vote initiative strives to bring “hard science” into political conversations with science communication outreach, including op-eds, social media, and virtual seminars.
“In recent years, science has been under attack from multiple directions,” Henkle, president of the SPG, said in a statement.
“But on the whole, research says that scientists are still some of the most respected people in the nation. If we can lead on these issues, then it’s going to have a broad impact.”
STEMulate the Vote is a non-partisan initiative aimed at sharing research-based information on current events. It does not endorse parties or candidates, according to the website.
The past few months also brought us the #BlackInSTEM era, which has seen numerous grassroots social media initiatives celebrating Black scientists in various areas of expertise.
The inaugural event kicked off on May 31 with Black Birders Week, designed to highlight Black nature enthusiasts while discussing the unique challenges they face in the field.
Several awe-inspiring, high-profile celebratory weeks have followed, including #BlackinPhysics, #BlackinChem, #BlackinGenetics, #BlackinNeuro, and many more (an onoing calendar is being maintained at the Black in Neuro website).
There has also been a rise in disability awareness in STEM fields, powered by social media accounts like Disabled in Higher Ed.
‘STICK TO SCIENCE’
The widespread belief that science and politics don’t mix was on full display on June 10, 2020. On that day, academics, professionals, and institutions participated in #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia, a social media campaign designed to shine a light on racial injustice.
The initiative was intended to serve as a day of education and awareness, outlining the outright and subtle forms of bias that historically-excluded groups in STEM face while educating the public on ways to combat anti-Black racism.
Some of the industry’s biggest players participated, including Nature, and on June 9, the publication sent out a tweet promoting the event. While it generally received support, a portion of the comments appear to question, or outright disagree, with Nature’s endorsement of a campaign that supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
“You are a respected journal. PLEASE do not become a showboat for political fads, no matter how well-meaning they may be,” one commenter wrote.
“Let’s look at the upside; anyone who doesn’t publish with you can now consider themselves lucky and untainted. Get back to science and leave politics out of it,” wrote another.
‘WE NEED MORE SCIENTISTS IN PUBLIC OFFICE’
In many countries, most policymakers are lawyers, but an increasing number of scientists are entering the political foray.
In the current election, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, Ph.D. and chemist Nancy Goroff are running for office in the U.S., Business Insider reported in August.
In an interview with the publication, Kelly said he was inspired to run because he hasn’t liked the “direction” of the U.S., “especially in the past couple of years.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Goroff says she is running because “We need more scientists in office.”
“We have a lot of lawyers and business people and that’s fine, but you want people from diverse backgrounds when you are trying to make complicated policy decisions … As a woman in science, I know what it means to be an underrepresented group and I think that will be helpful for making sure my constituents get their voices amplified,” she added.
MORE SCIENTISTS RUNNING FOR OFFICE
In 2018, ‘dozens’ of scientists ran for office, Science reports, although many did not make it past their state’s primary elections. Eighteen scientists made it through to November 6, 2018 ballot, with seven winning a seat in the 116th Congress. Areas of expertise included dentistry, pediatrics, environmental, industrial, and chemical engineering, health policy, and U.S. Navy nuclear ship commanding.
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Originally published at https://werepstem.com on November 3, 2020.