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Grant Whittington headshot

From Lab Coats to Pinstripes: Scientists May Make a Run for Washington


Feeling suppressed by a newly-energized wave of skepticism surrounding climate change stemming from Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency, scientists have considered leaving their labs for an office in Washington.

And a newly spawned group called 314 Action, named for the first three digits of pi, wants to help by supporting scientists who make a run for public office. 

The organization, founded by chemist and former breast cancer researcher Shaughnessy Naughton, will provide scientists with money and mentorship to support the process of running for Congress.

Naughton unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2014 and 2016, where she lost in the Pennsylvania Democratic primaries. She understands firsthand how challenging it can be burst onto the political scene with limited experience, so 314 Action looks to assuage those challenges. 

“Partly, we’re making the case for why they should run -- and Donald Trump is really helping us with that,” Naughton told The Atlantic this week.

It didn’t take long for Trump to turn scientists’ fears into reality. In his first week in office, Trump has discredited climate change; ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to delete all climate change information from its website (a proposition it later rolled back); imposed gag orders on some federal agencies; and appointed Rick Perry, who once called the science behind climate change a “phony mess” but has recently admitted human’s role in climate change, to run the Department of Energy.

The reaction to a Trump presidency has churned strong membership numbers for Naughton and 314 Action thus far. In just two weeks, more than 650 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) candidates signed up for 314 Action training.

314 Action lists five goals on its website:

  • Strengthen communication among the STEM community, the public and our elected officials;

  • Educate and advocate for and defend the integrity of science and its use;

  • Provide a voice for the STEM community on social issues;

  • Promote the responsible use of data driven fact based approaches in public policy;

  • Increase public engagement with the STEM Community through media.
The primary focus leans toward committing to a Congress that not only believes in climate change, but is also forced to table legislation about it. But 314 Action also mentions the need for research on gun violence. “It’s time to end the gag order on gun research. We need politicians who will have the courage to stand up to the NRA…” the mission statement reads.

Scientists all across the United States, not just those signing up for 3114 Action, have been moved to stand up to a president who seems critical of science.

Jonathan Berman of the University of Texas Health Science Center, inspired by the Women’s March in which hundreds and thousands of women flooded the streets across the country in protest of Trump, created a Facebook page advocating for scientists to march in Washington. Berman watched as the followers ballooned from 200 on one day to more than 220,000 the next. The group tweeted that the date of the march will be revealed next week.

Scientists are hardly represented in Congress. Only a few representatives boast undergraduate degrees in science and even fewer have doctoral degrees, but 314 Action believes it’s time for a change. The political action committee said it will only back Democratic candidates as of now, drawing a distinction between the two parties’ views on climate change.  

Image credit: Flickr/Michael Gwyther-Jones

Grant Whittington headshot

Based in Atlanta, GA, Grant is a nonprofit professional and freelance writer passionate about affordable housing and finding sustainable approaches to international development. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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