Scientists Gear Up to Run for Office In a World of “Alternative Facts”

January 25, 2017, 6:34 PM UTC
President Trump Signs Executive Order In The Oval Office
US President Donald Trump speaks after signing one of five executive orders related to the oil pipeline industry in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Trump took steps to advance construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines while foreshadowing a "renegotiation" of terms and insisting that developers use U.S. steel. Photographer: Shawn Thew/Pool via Bloomberg
Shawn Thew—Bloomberg via Getty Images

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

It’s 2017 and we live in a world of “alternative facts” and fake news. The nascent Trump administration has wasted little time in challenging well-established science, including the reality of man-made climate change and the safety of vaccines. The president’s decision to impose a gag order on numerous federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, stunned many observers and cut off vital lines of communication with journalists. (The EPA has also been ordered to freeze all grants and contracts until further notice.)

At times, it can seem like objective truth itself is under assault. But one group isn’t ready to let reality slip away without a fight.

The Atlantic has a fascinating piece out on 314 Action, a newly formed nonprofit that’s attempting to promote science to the public and elected officials alike (the “314” is a reference to pi). “314 Action is concerned that STEM education in the United States is falling further and further behind the rest of the world, that our political leaders continue to deny scientific facts and that Congress fails to fully fund scientific research so we can solve pressing environmental issues like climate change and social problems like gun violence,” says the group on its website.

One of 314 Action’s biggest goals is to get STEM leaders into elected office so that they can change the course of the debate from the inside. “A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics but we’re seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, the group’s founder, in an interview with the Atlantic. “We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table.”

Congress is overwhelmingly filled with lawyers and business people. The closest thing there is to a scientific contingent is the smattering of physicians in the House and Senate. But even many of these individuals have professed some controversial views on scientific issues, including on climate change and vaccine safety.

314 Action’s science-driven goal may be noble. But achieving it will be an uphill battle. And as the scientists-turned-politicians who get an assist from the group will soon learn, it’s one thing to have the facts – convincing constituents and the public at large that they’re right is another matter entirely.

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