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Scientists as Politicians: The 'Elements' of Running a Successful Campaign
Photo courtesy of Office of Congressman Rush Holt
While some scientists were running mass spectrometry and advanced titration experiments in their laboratories, others at an AAAS-hosted workshop were learning about running something different: an election campaign.
Meeting with physicist Rush Holt, who's now in his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with veteran campaign advisors including Joe Trippi, the campaign manager for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, several current and former AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows received advice on how to form a campaign message, raise funds, and work with the media.
By encouraging scientists to participate in the political process—and even consider running for office themselves—many scientific organizations, including AAAS, hope to raise the quality of political debate in the United States by ensuring that policies are supported by evidence-based research.
"It is imperative that scientists be aware of how the political process works so they feel comfortable speaking up when important issues involving science are being debated," said Mike Brown, executive director of Scientists & Engineers for America (SEA), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization that works to educate the public and politicians about science and public policy.
The 16 July workshop was co-organized by SEA, along with AAAS, as part of the 2007 Lecture series for S&T Policy Fellows and alumni of the program.
"The complexity and importance of many issues that politicians are debating in the United States require them to deal with science," said Daniel Poux, associate director for AAAS S&T Fellowships. "It's important to encourage scientists to participate in the national debates, either in an advisory role or by running for office themselves."
Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who was elected to the House in 1998, believes that a basic knowledge of science and technology is valuable not only for issues that come before the House Science Committee, but also for the "mundane, everyday issues that have scientific components."
"There are too many members that sit on the judiciary, transportation, or foreign operations committees that are afraid of science," said Holt, the only scientist serving on the Intelligence Committee. "Because almost every committee deals with issues that have scientific elements, it is important that legislators have access to reliable, unbiased advice."
Holt joked that when he ran for Congress, he downplayed two things: that he was a five-day Jeopardy champion and a physicist with a Ph.D.
"While your knowledge of scientific issues should be a part of your campaign, you should not run only as a scientist," said Holt, a former AAAS Congressional Fellow. "The fact that you have that specific knowledge is not enough to give you a leg up as you still have to communicate on other issues in which you will not be an expert."
Trippi, who was featured on the cover of the The New Republic as the man who "reinvented campaigning" for his use of the internet and other "new" media, told the workshop participants that to win an election, a candidate must figure out how to communicate to the voters through modern, more personal forms of media.
"There clearly has been a shift in power because TV is not as omnipotent as it used to be," Trippi said, suggesting that the Internet and blogs are becoming more influential for voters in evaluating a candidate.
In addition, because of the popularity of camera phones and video bloggers, candidates need to choose their actions and words more carefully, as "absolutely anything, and everything, can be posted to the Web."
"It will now be harder for candidates to be insincere about their personality," said Trippi, who is now running John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign. "There is no more off-camera."
In addition to new media like the Internet and blogs, Dean Levitan, managing director of the political consulting firm MSHC Partners, said that elections always come down to three things: money, time, and people.
"A lot of people think that each election needs to be managed differently," said Levitan, who has worked on local, state and national elections across the country. "But the reality is while there may be cultural differences between regions and elections, it always comes down to the same three pillars of campaigning."
The event also included remarks from Francis Slakey, associate director of public affairs at the American Physical Society; Anne Greenberg, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research; B.J. Martino, vice president of The Tarrance Group; along with several past Fellows who have run for political office.
The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, founded in 1973, place more than 100 Fellows each year in a broad range of federal agencies and congressional offices. The fellowships provide an opportunity for accomplished scientists and engineers to contribute to the federal policymaking process while learning firsthand about the intersection of science and policy.
31 July 2007