Science colors, in some way, every piece of every person’s life, from the daily process of our bodies to the impact of innovative technologies. Similarly, government is involved in the regulation, guidance and protection of the citizens of a country. Why, then, are these two pervasive areas suddenly so far removed from one another?
Though science and its important discoveries have been around for many years, the field and its products are not always accessible to those who follow other career paths. The jargon and technical terminology can be confusing and intimidating, possibly even alarming to some. On top of this, data is not as malleable as it is in other fields and may go against the positions of lawmakers. It is understandable, then, why fields like biology, engineering and environmental science have been pushed away by many policy makers. It is easier for them to avoid confrontation with constituents regarding topics they are not familiar with and to avoid fighting against information contrary to their positions. In this case, as in most, the easy way is not what is best for the most people.
But science, technology industries, engineering and math are vital to making good policy. Every day, lawmakers write and read bills that are related to these fields. Healthcare, environmental regulations and even abortion are all intrinsically related to science. Furthermore, simple mathematical knowledge of how to read data and understand statistics is necessary for almost every bill. Data brings evidence and credibility into political arguments. It helps us to understand the impact of regulating or legalizing certain practices and can help to prevent future turmoil with such projections. But in modern politics, policy makers simply choose to ignore this importance.
Since the November 2016 election, the issue of science in policy, or lack thereof, has been amplified. This widening gap demands more activism by and for science. Without increased activism, a field that already receives limited funding will see fewer and fewer jobs and grants. Activism has the potential to reduce unemployment and change the trajectory of current research. Traditionally, however, such political participation has been lacking or received a negative connotation, exacerbated by the extremist behaviors of environmentalist groups. To change the government’s approach to science and remove false or intimidating appearances from the movement, proponents must get involved.
So how does one reform or get involved in political activism? There are a number of organizations seeking to promote STEM in policy, including 314 Action, a national political action committee that has just started a new chapter right here at UT-Austin. Other organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have branches everywhere that are engaged in political activism. Students, professors and science professionals may find their path to activism here, while others can get involved with different parties to promote the cause from inside the government system. More simply, supporters of science need to vote. Voting in every election allows individuals to have a say in who represents them and what their government can make into law. Get involved, and help ensure that evidence-based science continues to have an important role in our political institutions.
Diller is a government sophomore. She is the vice president of the UT-Austin chapter of 314 Action, a national organization promoting the presence of STEM professionals in politics and the use of science in policy.