Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Intersection of Science and Politics -- Women Running for Office (#Witches in STEM)

By Angela Speck

All elections are important, but the impending mid-terms are especially so. All over the world there have been rightward swings in governments. And these new governments potentially impact so many groups that are not in the majority: not majority ethnicity/race, not male, not heterosexual, not cisgender, and so on. The intersection of “conservative” social policies with a tendency toward rejecting science means that we (Women Scientists) are feeling beleaguered (along with many other groups).

Many people, especially those in marginalized groups, were more than a little disappointed by the results of the 2016 US general election. Immediately after the presidential inauguration there were marches across the US in support of women’s rights. A few months later another series of demonstrations took place, this time in support of science.  While women are not the only group to feel embattled by the actions of the present administration, this blog is about women. Women and science in fact. And women in science have stepped up like never before to try and take control and be a part of how this country runs.

More people who identify as women have run for election this year than any time in the last 2 decades. For many, running for election is an act of self-defense. Similarly, many scientists, across all gender identities, are standing for election, most in an effort to defend against the anti-science stance of the current administration. It is more important than ever to have women and/or scientists (and other marginalized groups) in positions of power.

There are many reasons to support scientists running for office at all levels. It is difficult to have good policy on issues like fracking, climate change, vaccinations, and many other topics without having scientifically-literate representatives. Any attacks on science are effectively bolstered by (or at least not thwarted by) the paucity of scientists in elected positions. Most politicians have backgrounds in law, many majored in Political Science or Economics, but very few have any background in science. Currently, there is only one natural scientist who sitting in Congress (Bill Foster, D-IL in the House – and here is his rebuttal of the President’s opinion on scientists: Even at the state level, there are only a handful of elected officials who are natural scientists, and they are all men. As “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, the make up of congress is remarkably homogenous. Women and Science need more representation.

As the midterms loomed this year, approximately 60 women from STEM fields were running for federal office, with another ~200 running in state-level races.  Not everyone made it through their primaries. I was personally invested in a young woman plant scientist running in my Congressional District (Missouri’s 4th), but she was beaten by a small margin in our primary election in August. Similar stories can be told across the country. For Instance, Aruna Miller, who graduated from Missouri S&T with a degree in Civil Engineering, ran for the Maryland’s 6th District Congressional Seat. She was defeated in the primary. That said, she is already an elected official at the County level.

There are various organizations that support candidates from different backgrounds.  The non-profit, 314 Action ( ) is a political action committee (PAC) that is helping scientists run for office. They have helped around 1400 scientists run for political office since 2016. Similarly, Emily’s List ( ) is a long-standing organization that supports women running for election. While Emily’s List support women of all educational backgrounds, they are most lawyers, political scientists and economists. Similarly, while 314 Action support scientists, most of them are men.

The intersection of Emily’s List and 314 Action remains very small (smaller following disappointing primary results in which approximately half the scientists running for election lost their battles). Here are the women scientists running for election at the federal level right now:

Chrissy Houlahan is running for US Congressional Seat for Pennsylvania’s 6th district. She has a degree in Industrial Engineering from Stanford.

Elaine Luria is running for the US Congressional Seat for Virginia’s 2nd district. She a degree in physics from the Naval Academy

Jacky Rosen is running for the Senate seat in Nevada and is a computer programmer and software developer.

Kim Schrier is running for US Congressional Seat for Washington’s 8th district. She is an MD, with a BA in Astrophysics from Berkeley.

Hiral Tipirneni is running for US Congressional Seat for Arizona’s 8th district, and has an MD.

Lauren Underwood is running for US Congressional Seat for Illinois 14th district, and has a degree in Nursing from the University of Michigan.

That’s it. Of the hundreds of races being run in this federal election cycle, only 6 of the candidates are women scientists. According to the Washington Post only one of those women is favored to win her race: Chrissy Houlahan. Four of the remaining five are considered to be in competitive races, with Hiral Tipirneni not favored to win.

What should we do? As women scientists, how do we redress the balance? Actually, achieving balance for the first time is more apt. I’m not saying that we should all run for office. It’s quite a sacrifice of time and energy. I know I would have to give up tenure and quit my job (my university has rules about this sort of thing). But maybe we should be looking at how we can have a bigger impact on policy as women and scientists. Here are a couple of places for us to look:

At the very least we should all vote.