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Getting more scientists into politics? There's a PAC for that

I recently wrote about the importance of getting politicians to think more like scientists and getting more scientists actively involved in politics. It turns out that I'm not alone in thinking this is a good idea. A new group called Franklin's List is committed to sending STEM professionals to Washington.

Franklin's List is a "a nonpartisan, nonconnected, multicandidate, political action committee (PAC) dedicated to electing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals to public office." It is named after Benjamin Franklin and was founded in 2011 by current Congressman Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who is soon to be the only physicist in Congress.

The PAC wants both to increase the role that scientific evidence plays in political decisionmaking and to increase the number of scientists in Congress. According to its website, the committee plans to do this with a three-pronged approach: Support incumbents who are strong on science; identify and support STEM professionals to run for open seats; and find and support contenders in races where the opponent is weak on science. Further down the road, the PAC also would like be involved in state and local races.

Even though I find the amount of money that goes into Congressional races deeply problematic, I was still heartened to hear about this PAC. I truly believe the United States could benefit from more active engagement of scientists in politics. This is going to require some money, as most scientists don't have a whole lot to fund their own campaigns.

But as this article points out, Franklin's List has a big hurdle to overcome: working against the anti-politics sentiment common among scientists. Luckily and unluckily, the current funding situation for scientific research is spurring more scientists into active engagement with the political process.

A great example of this is the #NIHSequesterImpact discussion that arose on Twitter when Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, asked scientists to talk publically about how sequestration hampered their research programs and careers. Another example is Shaughness Naughton, a chemist who is running for Pennsylvania's eigth congressional district. There are likely many other scientists who are up to the challenge of starting a political career—especially given that up to 1,000 NIH investigators dropped out last year. If some of those scientists choose to run for office then, together with Franklin's List, they could really reshape politics.

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