The Intersection

Scientists of America, Unite!

My piece in the latest issue of Seed–not yet online, but will be soon I hope–is about the scientist activism group that just announced its existence, Scientists and Engineers for America. As I argue in Seed, this could be the organization that finally brings the national scientific community out of its political torpor by targeting races and trying to actually unseat politicians who egregiously misuse and abuse science.

So far, though, the particular races that Scientists and Engineers for America will invest in don’t seem to have been picked:

The group is looking at the Senate race in Virginia between George Allen, the incumbent Republican, and James Webb, a Democrat; a stem cell ballot issue in Missouri; the question of intelligent design in Ohio; and Congressional races in Washington State, Mr. Brown said.

Stay tuned on this front. In any event, I hope that Scientists and Engineers for America will support Republicans with good records on science, as well as opposing those with bad records. Indeed, the group should support pro-science candidates generally, whether it’s Rush Holt or pro-stem cell candidate Paul Aronsohn, both in New Jersey. I am also hoping that this group can try to provide us with some actual ratings for members of Congress–precisely the kinds of ratings that other groups, like the League of Conservation Voters, have produced for ages to guide voters.

Finally–finally–the scientific community may be awakening to political reality….but we’ll have to wait to see this group in action. The November election is awfully close now…


  1. #1 Louis Friedman
    September 28, 2006

    Mr.Mooney – I noticed the article about SEFORA in this morning’s NY Times coincidentally with buying your book last night (“Republican War…”). This issue of anti-science is a huge one now in the space program with devastating cuts to the space science program in order to fund the shuttle. 50% of all astrobiology science and 15% of all other reserach and analysis have been cut, along with important new missions of robotic exploration. We are conducting a SOS (Save Our Science) campaign SEFORA is a breath of fresh air, and hopeful — they are conducting a membership drive which I hope succeeds. — Louis Friedman, Executive Diurector, The Planetary Society

  2. #2 Wes Rolley
    September 29, 2006

    If SEFORA can really deliver, it might be an anti-dote for the “sound science” idiocy that comes from the mouths of political hacks like Sen. Imhofe and Rep. Pombo. At least, for now, it does appear that Pombo is in trouble, since he is spending big bucks for re-election and, the Republican Voter registration in his district is dropping (4.8% 9/2005 to 9//2006).

    If there are any politicians who pervert the idea of science more than these two, we are in more trouble than I thouhgt.

  3. #3 velid
    September 29, 2006

    Just thought I’d point out a bad example of media “balance” on global warming science in, oddly enough, CJR Daily, which is supposed to be a media watchdog.


  4. #4 R.A. Herlands
    October 3, 2006

    Before reading your entry, a friend pointed me to SEFORA. I’ve been a science activist organizing graduate students for 5 years and am always pleased to see organizations rising up to protect the integrity of their science. I think one point that is consistently missed by these organizations is that the structures through which science is preformed is being altered to facilitate the republican agenda and is detrimental to the science itself. A continued overproduction of low-paid well-trained PhDs, an increase in the overcompetition for scarce grants, and larger grants going into the hands of a select few (rather than smaller grants to a wealth of the young and creative) are BAD for science. These trends are encouraging “safe” projects rather than ambitious and creative ones. These structures ensure that a high # of young energetic and diverse scientists are leaving the field for more secure and well-paying jobs in industries where profit, not truth, drives science. And because security is so scarce and far off (the age of tenure or grant independence is now far older than it once was) scientists are legitimately fearful of being political or standing out in any way that could be detrimental to their careers. I’ve spent years as a graduate scientist organizing collective action among my colleagues, and as the strains of the republican agenda are put on our field, there is greater and greater difficulty in organizing political engagement. I’m hoping to find some minds out there to help think creatively about how to turn this around.

  5. #5 Fred Bortz
    October 4, 2006

    RAH: These trends are encouraging “safe” projects rather than ambitious and creative ones.

    Interesting you should say that. That dovetails with the last section of Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory; the Fall of a Science; and What Comes Next. Smolin writes that string theory is still the safe way to get funding, even after 30 years without experimental support and plenty of near-miss blind alleys. Researchers weanting to go in competing directions get very little funding and theoretical physics is languishing as a result, says Smolin.

    My comparative review of that book and peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law will be added to my Science Shelf archive at after it is published in the Dallas Morning News or the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, probably on October 15.

  6. #6 wolfwalker
    October 6, 2006

    In any event, I hope that Scientists and Engineers for America will support Republicans with good records on science, as well as opposing those with bad records.

    What about Democrats with bad records on science? Will this group oppose them? As an amateur scientist and longtime politics-watcher, I can say I’ve seen bad science from Democrats almost as often as I’ve seen it from Republicans, and sometimes with much worse results.

  7. #7 inkadu
    October 6, 2006

    I’m not a scientist, but I am active politically, and one thing we’ve learned over the last several years is the partisan politics matters more than individual views. A pro-choice Republican will still vote for their party’s neandrethal supreme court justice.

    I would discourage this group from actively funding any Republicans, since their entire governing philosophy seems to be anti-science, and many decisions are made along party lines. Vocal support can be given to Republicans, but the money I would save for pro-science Democrats running against anti-science Republicans.

  8. #8 Gerard Harbison
    October 6, 2006

    I’m not a scientist, but I am active politically, and one thing we’ve learned over the last several years is the partisan politics matters more than individual views

    Well, I am a scientist, and I hope we ignore people who are ‘not scientists but active politically’. Create another front organization for either of the two parties, purporting to speak for science, and you’ll lose not just scientists who happen to be conservatives, and beleive it or not there are a lot of us, but much of the middle ground also, who are usually irritated by partisan warfare of the sort you propose.

    There are some very specific issues scientists in general have the the current
    administration, and I hope this organization, which I have joined, sticks to these issues.

  9. #9 Bob O'H
    October 7, 2006

    A similar orgainsiation was set up in the 80s in the UK. It was called Save British Science (it was campaigning for better funding, rather than against the distortion of science). They were so successful that they had to change their name to CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering), as they had managed to save British science. However, the website keeps the old name:

    I guess the moral is that these organisations are important, and can be effective.


  10. #10 The Constructivist
    October 9, 2006

    Wondering if the founders have been inspired at all by Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and its portrayal of scientists and politics. Or by other scientifically- and politically-literate science fiction. Or just by the science fictions of the present?

  11. #11 Bob Wilcox
    October 9, 2006

    I’m always excited to see engineers getting involved in societal management. I investigated SEFORA’s website, but find the difficulties of democracy represnted on their site. On National Security they choose to focus on nuclear technology as a threat, rather than imperialism, preemptive invasion, and their market incentives. On Energy, the environment, and the economy, growth is the asserted necessity, whereas a constrained resource model should drive us to the logic of sustainable models with no dependence on growth. Health should be health, not disease therapy, but this organization stresses technical solutions without directing their attention to the efficiency of prevention.

    These scientific and engineering perspectives are not well informed, and do not deserve enthusiasm from the engineering community.

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