Opinion

A Case for More Scientists in Office

The reality of our situation is clear: We are in the midst of a major health crisis that could have been diminished if Washington politicians had listened to scientists. Instead of taking decisive action to stop the spread of the virus after receiving private briefings and intelligence from experts, members of Congress dumped stock and downplayed the threat. They have stood by as the president repeatedly attempts to silence scientists, and have enabled his disregard for facts and science — with dangerous and even lethal consequences.

And when the White House disbanded the office responsible for pandemic preparedness, politicians like Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who had the opportunity to speak out in his oversight role on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, only chose to praise the White House.

To truly address this crisis, America needs more leaders who make decisions based on facts and evidence, not politics. That means electing more people whose background and professional training have given them that skillset.

Scientists, doctors and nurses have been trained professionally to make decisions based on the evidence before them. They conduct research, collect data and listen to other experts. They focus on the facts before making informed decisions, they collaborate with colleagues and build coalitions, and they bring that very approach to policy-making.

Right now, many Americans don’t trust politicians to handle the pandemic — to say nothing of the other major issues our country faces. But Americans do trust scientists, not only to respond to the current pandemic, but also to tackle the greatest issues facing our country.

The data shows us that voters overwhelmingly believe Congress would benefit from more members with a background in science, and nearly 80 percent of voters are likely to vote for a candidate with a background in science over a traditional candidate.

Although I’m optimistic we will find treatments for COVID-19 in the near term, we know that the disease is not going away until we have an effective vaccine. With increased globalization, pandemic threats are becoming more frequent, which is why we need leaders who will prepare for the future and listen to the experts. When we do make our way out of the current crisis, the health, economic, and psychological tolls of the virus will leave our country with a litany of problems to solve.

For that, we will need scientists as lawmakers to lead the way — elected officials who are used to conducting research, listening to experts and focusing on the facts in order to make thoughtful decisions. We’ll need that kind of expertise to tackle issues brought to the forefront by this pandemic, like access to high-quality and affordable health care, addressing climate change and developing a 21st century economy.

When history looks back at this time, it will remember the politicians who made decisions based on politics, who ignored data and science and called for social distancing guidelines to be lifted prematurely. Politicians who were so afraid of drawing the ire of the president that they risked the lives of their own constituents.

To help solve this crisis, there are scientists and STEM professionals across the country who are running for office at all levels this year. And they stand to join other STEM leaders who are using their backgrounds to solve problems. For instance, Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse, co-founded the historic Black Maternal Health Caucus. In Pennsylvania, Montgomery County Commissioners Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh, a physician and public health professional, has used her training to act quickly and decisively to help tackle the coronavirus in her community. And Rep. Raul Ruiz, a former emergency room physician who represents CA-36, is co-chairing the bipartisan Congressional Coronavirus Task Force.

This fall, we have the opportunity to elect more science and public health leaders who are uniquely equipped to lead. So let’s send a message and elect scientists come November.

The outcome of our future depends on it.

Shaughnessy Naughton is the president and founder of 314 Action, the largest pro-science advocacy organization committed to electing scientists to public office.

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