“STEM the Divide” looks to get scientists elected

Kevin Dural

As science issues come to the forefront of American politics, one interest group plans to support STEM professionals running for office.

Created by the nonprofit 314 Action, “STEM the Divide” seeks to provide resources for those in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field wanting to run for office. The organization offers financial and political campaign aid, whether state, federal or local. 

Michael Mann, climate scientist at Penn State and science adviser to “STEM the Divide,” said those in STEM have to adapt to the world of politics. 

“A background in science provides little of the training and skills necessary to succeed in policy and politics,” said Mann.

Candidates such as Rand Paul and Benjamin Carson, both 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls and former doctors, did not see as much success as many would have hoped.

Chemist Shaughnessy Naughton, after losing the 2014 primary for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, was inspired to found “STEM the Divide” to assist scientists running for office.

There is some debate as to whether those involved in STEM would be qualified enough to manage public office. Recently, Carson’s business manager Armstrong Williams told the news website The Hill that “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency.” 

Government freshman Roshni Mahendru said she believes that the anti-science rhetoric of the Trump administration is a problem and that we need scientists’ perspectives in our government.

She added that while it may be difficult for scientists to work as politicians, they should still try.

“It’s hard (for scientists) to do their job if they’re not versed in politics,” Mahendru said. ”Being an adviser (to a politician) is the first step in the right direction, and will ease the transition into politics.”

Arguing against the rhetoric of the Trump administration, Mann said that “STEM the Divide” believes that questions regarding vaccines or climate change could be best answered by those who study it. 

“Despite the overwhelming consensus that climate change is real, human-caused and a problem, the (current) president is a climate change denier and has now nominated climate change deniers for many of the key posts in his administration,” Mann said. “I don’t think this could happen in a world where scientists are considerably more engaged in the political process.”

“STEM the Divide” plans to endorse its first candidate this year, and Mann said the organization is initially only supporting Democrats.

Chemistry professor Cynthia Labrake said one problem that she would like to see solved soon relates to funding for scientific research. 

“The government does not fund research to the level that they should,” she said.

Mechanical engineering freshman Tori Ann Gahagan said STEM majors learn critical skills that lend themselves to transparency. 

“A scientific background relies on facts, so it naturally lends itself to remove bias,” Gahagan said.  “Scientists in office could help emphasize unbiased truths.”

The group will hold its first online information session on March 14, which can be reached through its website.