Looking Back on 2018: Scientist-Politicians Make a Wave in the Midterm Elections

by Helen H. Kang

For scientist-politicians in the US, 2018 was a landmark year. Following November’s Midterm Elections, seven scientists will head to Washington to serve on the US Congress.1 At the state and local level, over 70 scientists across the country ran for political offices.2 The strength of this pro-science movement at every level of the political system is not surprising: in recent years, the scientific community has become increasingly frustrated and concerned with the anti-science sentiment growing within certain sects of the government. The establishment of 500 Women Scientists immediately following the 2016 Presidential Election is another example of how scientists and their allies have been called to action.

Dr. Jasmine Clark
Dr. Jasmine Clark (Photo: Jasmine Clark for Georgia)

This political groundswell in the greater scientific community may have resonated even more strongly with underrepresented members within the community. Dr. Jasmine Clark, a microbiologist and the new Democratic member-elect for the Georgia House of Representatives District 108, is one of the scientist-politicians energizing this movement at the state level.3 Campaigning on her promise to serve all of the diverse Georgian communities and their best interests, Dr. Clark defeated the incumbent Representative Clay Cox (R) and turned the red district blue.4 Describing herself as a “scientist, lecturer, mom, and proud Georgia Democrat,”5 her vision expands beyond promoting science and reason-based approaches in governance. A daughter of Georgia, born and raised, she vows that “there is no place for divisive rhetoric and discriminatory practices in the state’s future.”3 Another notable female scientist-politician is Dr. Kim Schrier (D), a member-elect of the US House of Representatives who won a battleground election against Dino Rossi (R) in Washington’s 8th Congressional District.6 A pediatrician by training, Dr. Schrier told Scientific American that she pledges to expand the Affordable Care Act, lower prescription drug costs and fight the opioid epidemic, while also focusing on climate change.7 The long list of other scientist-politician candidates included nuclear engineers, science teachers, physicists, and nurses.1

While scientist-organized groups such as 314 Action are making impactful contributions by empowering scientists who want to serve as politicians,8 others are supporting the movement by engaging and educating the public. 500 Women Scientists also took action – starting with a July webinar titled Elections Matter! The 101 for How You Can Get Involved and Make an Impact. As a grassroots nonprofit organization that is powered by locally organized communities, our efforts were focused on mobilizing area voters: a few examples include the San Diego and Fort Collins Pods (where members created a science policy voter guide), the Washington DC Pod (whose members helped drive voter registrations at local universities and law schools), and the Ithaca and Philadelphia Pods (where members created and distributed candidate questionnaires).9 In the new year and beyond, 500 Women Scientists will continue to engage the public in advocating for socially just policies and evidence-based decision-making.

2018 has been a tumultuous year for politics, like the one that came before it. However it is reassuring to see the new energy, optimism, and resolve in these scientist-politicians, as well as the citizens who believed in the newcomers and what they stand for. Science can and should help direct the course of history towards reason and justice, always — these scientists have begun by making history themselves. The future looks brighter than it has in a long while.


About the Author

Helen H. Kang, PhD is a medical writer in New York City (Twitter).

Edited by Lilian Lamech


References

  1. Emily Holden. “Congress Gains an Influx of Scientists as GOP Science Committee Head Leaves.” The Guardian, November 10, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/10/congress-gains-scientists-lawmakers-midterm-elections.
  2. David S. Rauf. “Scientist-Politicians Go Local: From Lab Bench to a Deep Bench.” Scientific American, November 1, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientist-politicians-go-local-from-lab-bench-to-a-deep-bench/.
  3. Committee for Jasmine Clark  For Georgia House. Jasmine Clark for Georgia. https://www.jasmineclarkforgeorgia.com/. Accessed December 12, 2018.
  4. Ballotpedia. Jasmine Clark. https://ballotpedia.org/Jasmine_Clark. Accessed December 12, 2018.
  5. Twitter. Jasmine Clark. https://twitter.com/JasmineforHD108. Accessed December 12, 2018.
  6. Ballotpedia. Kim Schrier. https://ballotpedia.org/Kim_Schrier. Accessed December 12, 2018.
  7. David S. Rauf. “Scientist–Politicians Rack Up Wins on Election Day.” Scientific American, November 16, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientist-politicians-rack-up-wins-on-election-day/. Accessed December 12, 2018.
  8. 314 Action. http://www.314action.org/mission-1/. Accessed December 12, 2018.
  9. 500 Women Scientists. https://500womenscientists.org/get-out-the-vote. Accessed December 12, 2018.

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