US Scientists Leaving Labs to Run for Office

28 May, 2017

Last month, scientists and their supporters marched in the streets to protest President Donald Trump's science policies.

Scientists, known for working quietly in the labs, are protesting loudly because they say science is threatened under the Trump administration. More than 260 groups backed the event, called March for Science.

Working to get scientists elected

Shaughnessy Naughton is founder and president of 314 Action. She started the organization to work for pro-science issues in government. Her group helps STEM professionals run for political office. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and 314 Action wants to increase their numbers in politics.

They might get their wish.

Naughton, a chemist, ran for office in 2014, and lost. She started the organization before Trump was elected. Since January, she says, the administration's position on climate science "has been a catalyst" to get scientists "to step up and get involved."

"We've had over 5,000 scientists across the country reach out to us, put their hand up and say they're willing to do this. Which is, far exceeds, what we expected."

FILE: A crowd gathers for the March for Science in Washington, Saturday, April 22, 2017. Thousands of scientists worldwide left their labs to take to the streets to support science research and funding.
FILE: A crowd gathers for the March for Science in Washington, Saturday, April 22, 2017. Thousands of scientists worldwide left their labs to take to the streets to support science research and funding.

So far, all the candidates are Democrats. They come from different science-related professions — researchers and doctors, for example. They are men and women of different ages across the U.S. Some are running for Congress, others for local offices and school boards. 314 Action helps them organize campaign teams and volunteers.

Some Trump top advisers have STEM backgrounds

While scientists may question his policies, President Trump has selected people with science and engineering backgrounds to be his top advisers.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson started as an engineer at Exxon Mobil. There are three medical doctors in Trump's cabinet. They are Tom Price at Health and Human Services, Ben Carson, a former presidential candidate, at Housing and Urban Development, and David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue received a doctor's degree in veterinary medicine — an animal doctor.

Patrick Madden opposes Trump's science policies. He is a researcher and professor of computer science at Binghamton University in the state of New York. He develops mobile phone technology.

Now he is running for Congress. He got into politics because, he says, science is under attack by the Trump administration.

"There was a proposal that would have slashed funding for researchers in the United States, through the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), NIH (National Institutes of Health), many of the government agencies that support academic research. And I think, particularly the EPA with the environmental scientists, has seen their funding cut and a lot of political pressure is being put on, put on people doing this work."

Some say Trump disrespects science

During the campaign, Trump called climate change a "hoax," or not true. But since taking office, he has delayed making a decision on his campaign promise to back out of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. While his first budget cut scientific research, Congress later put the money back in for the National Institutes of Health, and even added a little more.

The new U.S. administration is "disrespecting" science and scientists, says Gretchen Goldman. She works for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.

"We're not just talking about an administration that's taking different policy stances, which of course they're free to take different policy stances from their predecessor, but here what we're seeing is that they're undermining the very process by which we use science to inform decisions."

Like many of the scientists running for office, this is Patrick Madden's first try at politics.

"I enjoy my teaching, I enjoy my research, but when I think about my students and the world that they go into, I feel an obligation to step up. And I'm hoping I can do something for them."

Madden adds he has always been patriotic, but now, he will "do it in a different way." He says getting elected to the U.S. Congress will be an "uphill battle." He will have to beat Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, a lawyer and businesswoman.

I'm Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English with information from VOA News. Hai Do was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit us on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

STEM – adj. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

catalyst – n. a person or event that quickly causes change or action

cabinet – n. the presidents group of advisors that head administration departments

slash – v. to reduce (something) by a large amount

funding – n. the amount of money provided for something

stance – n. a publicly stated opinion — usually singular

predecessor – n. a person who had a job or position before someone else

select – v. to choose

patriotic – adj. having or showing great love and support for your country : having or showing patriotism

uphill battle – phrase. refers to something that will be very difficult to do