We’ve arranged a society based on science and technology, in which nobody understands anything about science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power, sooner or later, is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it? – Carl Sagan in his last interview
When I was a kid, my physics teacher uncle took me on a class trip to a fusion energy test generator in Princeton, New Jersey. As a budding science nerd, I was fascinated. I got to talk to theoretical physicists and see an incredible machine that could make matter as hot as the Sun. At the time, I thought I’d be a scientist when I grew up. But at the end of our field trip, the tour guide told us the lab would probably have to shut down: they were losing their Congressional funding.
That moment was a wake up call for me. All the scientific endeavors I was so excited about were connected to the politics we discussed at our family’s dinner table.
The lab, in fact, did stay open until 1997. It was at Princeton, an area represented by Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat and one of the few physicists to have served in Congress.
So I grew up, went to school, worked at a museum, worked for my Congressman – Jim Saxton, a Republican who sponsored climate legislation, supported the military and protected our shore – and went on to a career that has involved helping scientists communicate what they know and why it’s important to their fellow citizens. That’s included talking to policymakers who need to make consequential decisions based on the best available scientific evidence, whether it be about the medicine we use, the technology we invest in, the safety and health of our water, air and climate, or how we manage our nuclear weapons arsenal.
I’ve been doing this work for 10 years. Helping a scientist find the words they need to explain their curiosity and their knowledge to an audience means more to me than I ever expected it to. It’s the work of a lifetime and I’m deeply honored to work with such smart, committed people every day.
And now I am deeply troubled. My country – my beautiful country that I love dearly, my country that planted our flag on the Moon, my country that cured polio, my country that has stood as a bulwark of technological and scientific progress and freedom of inquiry for generations – may elect a dangerously uninformed man to be our president. A man who not only denies evident scientific realities – from the safety of vaccines to the reality of climate change – but who also rejects the very practice of consulting and heeding expert advice. Even worse, he is a conspiracy theorist, who regularly promotes misinformation he reads online as evidence of something darkly suspicious regarding his perceived enemies.
I don’t say this lightly. Like many of my fellow citizens, I have waited for a more moderate, more temperate, more deliberate Donald Trump to emerge. He has not. He will not.
Some people assume that if Trump becomes president he will finally start listening to good, reasonable people. This is wishful thinking. He has had months to do this. He will not.
Trump’s dismissal of scientific evidence is rivaled only by his casual dismissal of Constitutional values and norms. A scientifically illiterate president is dangerous – a Constitutionally illiterate one is a threat to democracy. Trump’s dismissal of free speech rights and his groundless attack against a federal judge presiding over a fraud case against Trump University based solely on that judge’s ethnicity should deeply trouble every patriot.
So I’ve done something I never thought I would do. I asked my boss for a leave of absence. I asked my family if I could take off for a few weeks. Everyone has been incredibly understanding. They know how much my country and having an informed democracy means to me. So here I am in Athens, Ohio working with NextGen Climate, helping voters at Ohio University ensure that their voices can be heard in this election.
When students tell me they feel like their vote doesn’t matter, I can tell them it does. They have the power to determine the next leader of our country. The decisions that the next president makes will determine how clean our air is, how much oil our country imports and burns, how quickly we reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, and the future climate we will inherit. The young men and women here were largely not paying attention to politics just 10 short years ago, when we still had regular cooperation between the parties and people hadn’t retreated into their online ideological information bubbles. Instead, these students are growing up amid the hate and the folly Trump has brought to the campaign.
Importantly, the 2000 election is history for them. Just how close was Ohio then? If everyone who went third party voted for Gore, that would have flipped the entire election. And no Republican has ever ascended to the presidency without carrying Ohio. The road to the presidency runs through Athens and every other community in the Buckeye State.
These students are a firewall for a political system that the generation above them has almost completely broken. And they are the ones who will fix it. They have awesome power and an awesome responsibility.
So here I am. I welcome my friends and peers to come join me, if not in Ohio then in another swing state.
If you’re a member of the scientific community, please consider signing onto and sharing this open letter on Not Who We Are. It also cites a letter from 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences who have spoken out against Trump’s dismal record of belittling climate science.
And if you’re a reasonable person on the left who is still wavering on Hillary Clinton, suck it up. Read this. You may disagree with her, but she is capable of understanding why you disagree. She is an absolutely competent leader and will make policy decisions based on evidence, expert advise, well-established values, and with the good of the country in mind. If you went for Bernie know this – Clinton has moved toward Bernie. She is listening, not just for political reasons, but because she wants to lead both the younger and older generation together, though much still divides us culturally and ideologically.
And if you hate her from the right, I’m sorry, but Donald Trump isn’t on your side, either. If you truly can’t bear to vote for Clinton, sit it out or go third party. I sincerely hope the Republican Party does better next time and embraces a new generation of young conservatives. I still believe that our country needs conservatives and liberals openly and honestly debating each other to get things done. And even if we disagree on our ideologies, we can still agree on what to do about the pressing issues of the day. That’s what Ben Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did, dammit, and we can do it, too.
And, finally, if you think Clinton and her team aren’t ready to lead, look at the answers to 20 pressing questions at ScienceDebate.org. and the ratings the editors of Scientific American put together. On this front, it’s truly no contest.
We can choose a competent leader with a long track-record of public service – who holds herself accountable to the Constitution – or we can choose the darker path of anger, vitriol and ignorance.
These are the stakes.
The Bottom Line: #ImWithHer
If you want to make a well-sourced, credible point in response to what you’ve read, please feel free to do so. It would be helpful if you could actually quote what I wrote and respond to it as if it was a conversation. If you want to share conspiracy theories and memes with me, don’t expect a robust response. If you want to talk about Benghazi or emails, I encourage you to sit down with a cup of coffee and read through every Politifact article about them before you do so and to cite the relevant points from those articles in your response. With so much misinformation going around this cycle, we have to be the Credible Hulk and cite our sources. Thanks!