Science advocates have much to celebrate after the 2018 Midterm Elections. Last Tuesday, eight new congressmen and women with formal scientific backgrounds were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. They will also be joined by one new senator with science credentials. Having members of congress with formal science training is essential for the success of our government. After all, Congress is expected to address a multitude of complex scientific issues on a daily basis. Topics such as climate science, cybersecurity, healthcare, and energy infrastructure require a comprehensive understanding of scientific disciplines. It is widely hoped that electing congressional representatives and senators with scientific experience will result in a fact based and data driven approach to policy making which many lament is missing from today’s policy discussions.
The inclusion of nine new scientists into a body totaling 535 voting members may not seem like a surge, but this is a significant advancement for a field that is traditionally reticent to engage in political discussions. The current 115th Congress included only a total of three scientists including Rep. Louise Slaughter who passed away unexpectedly in the middle of her term. Traditional training for scientists and engineers rarely includes any overview on civic engagement. Moving out of the lab and into the political arena can be daunting given the rarity of scientist-politicians. However, the inherent value of having scientists participate in government has lead to a surge of 21 scientifically trained candidates running for Congress on major party tickets, resulting in a tripling of elected congresspeople. The growing trend for scientists to become politically active has increased drastically due to efforts by organizations like the March for Science and 314 Action political action committee.
One of the most notable science related effects of the 2018 midterms isn’t any single candidate or political race, but the overall effect of pro-science movements on congressional committees. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made statements indicating the potential to form a new select committee of climate and renewable energy. A committee similar to this one operated previously from 2007 to 2011. Additionally, with the retirement of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the House Science Committee is poised to have its first chairperson in nearly ten years who openly acknowledges overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change. These changes in the political body of Congress to include data-driven and scientifically trained representatives is sure to lead to a change in discourse within US politics.
The wave of scientists entering the political arena is expected to continue. As more scientists become involved with politics and demonstrate the value of data driven policy making, marketing oneself as a scientist will become increasingly more valuable to future candidates. Afterall, science affects everyone and everyone stands to benefit from science based policies.