Post-election 2016: Six things you can do to support science
Before jumping into this post, I wanted to lay my cards on the table, particularly the ones acknowledging I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite on this matter. Being honest, this election (2016) is perhaps the first I’ve truly paid attention to, in the very least the first I’ve felt any passions about. It’s an easy acknowledgement as well then that I wouldn’t consider myself a political activist by any means, and my general involvement so far has been scant.
But in the wake of the 2016 election, I find myself hard-pressed to ignore some of the disturbing icons of what may represent the future of science support in America. And I personally believe this is something we can look at regardless of your views on the rest of the administration’s standpoints, whether you voted for Trump or not.
When it comes to science though, the issues are pretty apparent. For starters, we have the obvious concerns that Trump thinks climate change is a hoax; has appointed a non-scientist, climate change denier as head of his EPA transition team; and argues vaccines cause autism (in case you’re on the fence, no, the evidence still disagrees with a link between the two). And if you think it’s only the hot-button issues where there seems to be some deep misunderstanding on science, just check out this clip where Trump seems to think that no aerosols in his apartment can get out into the environment (skip to near the end). Given Pence’s views on science findings, I’m not sure we have much hope there either. We can only hope these views don’t affect science funding negatively, but given the above, I’m not so optimistic.
So in thinking about what our (the public’s) response, if any, should be to these concerns, I’ve been doing a little digging and brainstorming on what exactly we can do to support science under an administration that doesn’t (or won’t) itself:
Write a letter to… Write letter(S) to, tweet at, call, and get an ad in the paper for your local government representative.
Sending a letter to congress (here’s the link to find your representative, and here for the senate) is a general go-to response for making your voice heard on political concerns, but I could count the number of people I know who’ve actually done it on one hand. Personally I admit my own skepticism on the merit of an individual letter given how many our representatives likely receive each day, BUT I think there are quite a few ways to tweak the base idea into something with more efficacy. Instead of writing one letter, why not organize a letter-writing party? If you’re worried that letters aren’t read, maybe a calling party is worth it instead? Remember too that social media (Twitter especially) may provide an even more direct link to your representative’s ear. And if all else fails, maybe it’s time for an ad in the paper or a letter to the editor mentioning your representative by name.
Host a “science café” discussing the relevant (science, not policy) issues
To quote from the NOVA site on science cafés, these are “are live—and lively—events that take place in casual settings such as pubs and coffeehouses, are open to everyone, and feature an engaging conversation with a scientist about a particular topic.” As someone who recently started a science café in my own local area, I can personally attest to the value of getting the public out and discussing science through this format. It’s great fun and fairly easy to organize! More importantly, it’s a way to get the general public involved. It’s also something anyone (with a little persistence and passion) can get started. If you’re looking for resources, the sciencecafes.org NOVA site is a great place to get started. I do encourage one to resist “politicizing” any science café, but there are real and relevant science facts and misconceptions that can go a ways if appropriately addressed in the public sphere. So stick with the science facts here if you’re interested in this kind of event– the goal is to support a more informed public, not to prescribe policy for them.
Talk to your family and friends. Don’t be afraid of your perspective.
This should go without saying, but it’s something we’re all (myself included) likely hesitant to do. All the same, if we want to ask ourselves where our voice can have the most impact, it’s hard to argue against that this is surely with those who already care about us and value our opinion. Of course, we generally avoid this for fear of the backlash, but if I’m learning anything from this election, it’s that we should be far more afraid of staying silent than what others are going to think.
Support a science project directly through crowdfunding
Ever heard of experiment.com or kickstarter.com? The general idea of both sites is to garnish funds for projects by allowing the public to browse through projects they feel worth contributing their cash to (“crowd-funding”). While KickStarter accepts a variety of project types (but has a science section), Experiment.com is strictly for scientific research. And if you don’t have wads of cash to throw (like myself), don’t worry, projects are often funded through small donations by numerous contributors, and your bank account is only charged if the project becomes fully funded. So if science funding does take a hit in the new administration, take a peak and see if you can help the research you believe in keep afloat.
Don’t forget the off-year elections!
Remember (I’m speaking to myself here also!), there’s more to our government than just the presidential administration. If we are to be concerned with the presidential election, then we ought to be with the legislative also. So don’t forget the midterm election coming up (next up 2018) where 435 seats in the House of Representatives and ~33 of the Senate are up for grabs.
Get involved with an activist organization
Before you start a whole new initiative, bear in mind that there are likely already groups out there promoting the same idea. For instance, concerned about the environment? You might want to consider checking out the Natural Resource Defense Council or the Environmental Defense Fund. And if you’re skeptical like me on the validity of the organization, try checking out the org you interested in on analytical rankings sites like Charity Watch or Charity Navigator.
One last passing suggestion in each of these cases — it’s worth remembering that support for science doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. You can be a Trump supporter while still disagreeing with the administration’s current stances related to science. And you can also be a die-hard liberal and hold cross-partisan dialogue on specific issues like these without condoning the rest of the administration’s views (#notmypresident folks, I’m looking at you).
As for myself, I’m still not sure what my own response should be, so take these thoughts as brainstormed ideas, not prescriptions. But, if like me, you’re waking up to the gravity of these matters and concerned about the way forward, don’t count out the ideas above and stay tuned. It’s likely to be a wild ride.