Run for office!

Scientist and Engineers for America is running a workshop to encourage more scientists to be politically active. The focus is on telling you how to run for office, which seems like an excellent idea to me. Get out there and acquire some power, people!


  1. Wazza says

    “There have been a few sparse times and places – and we are hoping that the twenty-first century will host a few of them – in which onlookers are more ready to believe a disputant who is unsure, than one who is certain. But in today’s politics, changing your mind in response to new evidence is
    seen as a weakness. When he was Vice-Chancellor at Warwick University, the biologist Sir Brian Follett remarked: ‘I don’t like scientists on my committees. You don’t know where they’ll stand on any issue. Give them some more data, and they change their minds!’ He understood the joke:
    most politicians wouldn’t even realise it was a joke.” – Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen

    Unfortunately, this is still the case. In american politics in particular, people seem to like a simple, clear message, rather than evidence of flexibility and intelligence. That doesn’t mesh well with the scientific mindset. In fact, I can’t think of many people who’ve gone into government from science – Robert Lord Winston is the only name that springs to mind, and I think he might not have actually been elected, since some seats in the upper house are in the grant of the Queen…

  2. stuart denham says

    Ever since the election of a certain” scientist we can all look forward to more science in politics (which is to say any at all). Go forward!

  3. says

    Just because you’re a scientist doesn’t mean you can’t also be a good “on message” candidate as well. A recent example is Fermilab physicist Bill Foster, who won in a special election in a surprisingly Republican district. While his background was part of his bio, he didn’t spend the campaign talking about Higgs Bosons: he stayed on message attacking the Iraq War and his opponents draconian hatred of immigrants.

    The key is realizing that you only get that one or two soundbite summary in the minds of most voters, and you have to just keep on point so that a few simple ideas are what stand out and penetrate. It’s a grueling job, really.

  4. stuart denham says

    I think that being said I’d rather have someone towing the party line who’s coming from a scientific background than one coming from a religious one. At least I know that he’s likely to deviate from the party line on issues effecting science than going out on a limb for less useful issues.

  5. Sili says

    No no no. You’re framing this all wrong.

    How are we gonna stop people from thinking there really is an evil atheist conspiracy of scientist running the country íf scientst try to actually run the country?

  6. stillwaggon says

    If you can’t devote a lot of time to a political office, consider something like a local board or commission, which may only require a meeting or two a month (with reading in-between). For instance, when one member of our town board of health left the area with one year remaining on her term, a local right-wing Christian bigot wanted the office. Since candidates for these unpaid positions often run unopposed, there was a real danger that she’d get it. The only requirement is being a registered voter. Even though all the other board members would outvote her on every issue — possibly after a lot of unpleasantness — I decided to run for it to keep the board reasonable. She actually said that she didn’t want to run against someone with a background in the field and dropped out! Nearing the end of my one year term, I talked someone much better qualified into running and she’s doing a terrific job. The present board contains a physician, a biology PhD, a physicist, and two people with degrees in public health. I keep up with our issues — never know when I might need to jump in again. It’s amazing how many people it takes to run our Boston suburb of 15,000 — no way it could be done without citizens stepping up.

  7. Kay says


    The religious right isn’t afraid to let everyone know they want to run the country. Why should we? If anything, scientists are open about their agenda (well…except big pharma, agribusiness, tobacco). hmmmmmmmm when I think of that way…Let’s hope Monsanto doesn’t get envolved. grrrr

  8. charley says

    I guess this is a good thing, but you wouldn’t like Calvinist views of Ehlers (the old guy) on the relationship of science to Christianity. He believes that the Bible and nature are perfect gifts from God which appear to conflict only because they are both interpreted by fallen humans. Science is man’s imperfect attempt to understand nature, and theology is his attempt to understand the Bible. Just goes to show that being a scientist or engineer doesn’t guarantee a completely rationalist perspective.

  9. says

    In american politics in particular, people seem to like a simple, clear message, rather than evidence of flexibility and intelligence.

    When running for office, yes, but if you haven’t noticed in politics you don’t have to behave on the job like you do on the campaign trail. How to campaign is different from how to be a senator.

    There is a concept in political science / sociology called legitimacy which roughly refers to the authority of knowledge. The problem right now is that scientific knowledge is within a sort of double legitimacy – for scientific knowledge to have any effect on policy it has to both convince the scientific community and the politicians. I think having more scientists in office would ease the transition of good concrete knowledge to good sound policy.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    SFAIK, the most recent example of a scientifically educated person being elected to lead a nation was somebody named Thatcher. Granted, the combination of her position and her background as a chemist made the difference at a G-7 summit meeting where serious policy commitments were made on acid rain – but otherwise her time in office pushed the UK straight backwards.

  11. negentropyeater says


    Angela Merkel is a more recent example of a scientifically educated person being elected to lead a nation. She studied Physics. And she also did back the Pope in his camapign to make the new European constitution recognize the union’s “Christian roots and values”.

  12. says

    1. First a round of applause to Stillwagon. Local politics is just as important as national politics, even if it is less glamorous.

    2. I like PZ but wouldn’t be able to vote for him because he used the “F” word once. Politicians need to be above everything, and we all know that taking a chance on PZ swearing when someone insults him is a chance we can’t afford to take. We all know that liberals are much more effective when they calmly reason through all of the problems, boring the crap out of all the people who want to get their politics in soundbites.

  13. JRS says

    Well, Epistaxis, one way to obtain grant money would be to put yourself on the committee that grants money. Sure, you might get caught and face public disgrace, but that hasn’t stopped other politicians from using their offices for selfish motives. If you choose to do this, I suggest running as a Republican. This will put you in contact with the people most skilled at political corruption.

  14. says

    I’ve read that in China basically all of their leaders are engineers and scientists, and they sure get things done.

  15. usagi says

    Every time a school board passes a rule allowing/encouraging/requiring the teaching of Creationism in the classroom, there’s a flurry of online handwringing with the jist of “How could this happen again?” The answer is simple. The people who cared about the issue got off their duffs and did the work necessary to be elected to the school board in order to make it happen. Serving on a school board is probably one of the most thankless, frustrating jobs in the world, but they show up and do the work. It’s not any more complicated than that. Good to see someone’s apparently recognized this reality and is encouraging some pushback (hopefully at all levels).

  16. Peter Lund says

    Javier Solana, the former Secretary General of NATO, former minister for culture, education, foreign affairs in Spain, and current “foreign minister” of the EU is a physicist.

  17. John C. Randolph says

    she also did back the Pope in his camapign to make the new European constitution recognize the union’s “Christian roots and values”.

    Christianity… Isn’t that the imperialist religion from the middle east, that wiped out all of the native traditions of Europe?

    Just sayin’..


  18. yogi-one says

    Yes, more scientists and engineers should run. We’d have greener technology, and we would be much further along with replacing the countries aging infrastructure if we had more scientists and engineers directing policy.We’d have schools more focused on science and a higher priority of educating non-wealthy people.

    The whole Straussian concept that ignorant masses should be ruled by a super-wealthy elite who dishes out punishments and favors on whims, reserves health-care and education only for themselves, and manufactures war after war after war has to go.

    Of course, being a scientist does not mean a person will not have their own strong opinions and agendas. Scientists are people too.

    But it sure would help balance out the political conversation in this country in several important ways.

  19. Mike P says

    Brian Baird is a House Rep from Washington state and is also a trained clinical psychologist. I’ve interviewed him for the magazine I write for, and it made me wish more scientists were in higher seats of government.

  20. Sili says

    I do believe Thatcher also had more than a little influence in getting the Montreal Protocol banning the use of freons passed.