Science and politics – Part 1

On October 30th, 2019 I’ve organized an event at Manny’s (3092 16th St, San Francisco) on Science and Politics, with accomplished scientists Elaine DiMasi and Michael Eisen who chose to run for congress, in the wake of the 2016 US election, the Women’s March and the March for Science.

Dr. Michael Eisen and and Dr. Elaine DiMasi, who respectively ran for US Senate (CA) and US House of Representative (NY-1) , at Manny’s in San Francisco on October 30th, 2019

The setting was quite ideal for the speakers (Manny’s has held event for 17 out of the 20 Democratic candidates to the US Presidential election), and the two accomplished scientists shared many thoughts on their unsuccessful run.

A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself
George Clemenceau

Of the wave of scientists who ran in 2018, few were elected, but it’s is hard to change a political machine that has been here for many decades on the first attempt.Trial, error, re-calibrate, try again. I hope to shortly provide a summary of lessons learned in a “Part 2” (I have a recordings of the event, but it’s low quality.)

While there is a lot of work done in the realm of science policy (how to inform our representative and make sure they make evidence-based decision)—groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) or closer to me the Berkeley Science Policy Group and interesting programs such as the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships— very few scientists do engage politics frontally, as candidates.

While other countries do have trained scientists at their helm (Angela Merkel from Germany and Xi Jinping from China are both doctors in Chemistry, and their respective term have been relatively successful up to this point), other countries not so much. Currently, Rep Bill Foster (D-Il), Steve Englebright (NY state assembly) and Dan Kalb (Oakland City Council) are scientists in public offices; Vern Ehlers and Rush D. Holt were the first physicists to be elected in congress (party did not matter so much, Ehlers being a Republican and Holt a Democrat; see College Professors Who Have Served in Congress – The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 2014) for a partial list)

Interestingly, a few rising stars (or shining bright already!) of the Congress are professors (but not scientists): Katie Porter, ❤️Kirsten Sinema💙, Elizabeth Warren. Jess Phenix is a geologist who has ran for the House of Representative; she has still been unsuccessful, but her time might come.

(edit 11/8/2019: note that Olivier Ezratty published a post on “Do we need more scientists and engineers in politics“, quite thorough)

Science and politics: when researchers run for congress

Science and technology is at the heart of modern ways of living, from planes to cell phones, yet scientist are under-represented in congress, where their voice is hardly heard. “Listen to the scientists,” said environmental icon Greta Thunberg in her recent testimony in Congress. The emergence of alternative facts in the Trump era has pushed a handful a scientists across the country to the political arena.

The scientists Elaine DiMasi and Michael Eisen will share their motivation for running and their experience engaging politics, how they found support, but also their advice on how to engage the public with science  and the best ways to get lawmakers’ attention.

“It would be really nice to have scientists ask the questions of the Cabinet appointees,” says Michael Eisen, “because the senators don’t seem to understand the issue and aren’t asking the right questions.”
Link the even registration

Dr. Elaine DiMasi is a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab, where she leads the optical systems group for the upgrade of ALS, a particle accelerator used for basic science experiments. She ran for the Democratic primary for the US House of Representative (NY-1) in 2018, after leaving her scientist position at Brookhaven National Laboratory, before joining the Bay Area in 2019.

Physicist hopes the evidence is clear in bid for New York congressional seat – Science
Elaine DiMasi Represents Progressive, Evidence Based Policy for New York’s 1st – Medium
Everyday Women and Congressional Candidate Elaine DiMasi on Women’s Rights and Empowerment – Daily Kos
Elaine DiMasi: running for office – Physics World
Interview with Elaine DiMasi, Candidate for New York’s 1st Congressional District – The Daily Banter
Physicist learns hard lessons about money and leadership in U.S. politics – Science

Dr. Michael Eisen is a professor of biology at the University of California Berkeley. In 2018, he ran in the primaries for the California seat in the US Senate. He is the founder of Public Library of Science (PLoS), a pioneering open access academic journal based in San Francisco. He is part of the scientific advisory board of Impossible Food, a vegan food company.

Geneticist launches bid for US Senate – Nature
In Age of Trump, Scientists Show Signs of a Political Pulse – New-York Times


‘Listen to the scientists’: Greta Thunberg urges Congress to take action – The Guardian

Freedom to Bully – How Laws Intended to Free Information Are Used to Harass Researchers – Union of Concerned Scientists