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New Congress Gives New Hope to the Science of Evidence Based Policy Making

It’s been over a month since the 2018 mid-term elections in the U.S., and amongst all the chaos that continues to unfold under the Trump Administration, there remains one undeniable beacon of hope: Congress.

Sworn in today, the 116th Congress is being hailed as the most diverse Congress we’ve seen in its 200+ year history, with the first Native American, the first Muslim and seven scientists being elected to serve! The last Congress had only two representatives with advanced degrees in STEM fields and a handful of medical doctors and nurses. Indeed, scientists have been largely absent from our first branch of government, despite many of the greatest challenges we face today requiring rigorous science to solve. In fact, none of the Congressional committees on science and technology have any scientists as members. While, science and evidence-based policy making was a hallmark of the Obama Administration, the current Trump Administration has made a point of rooting it out wherever possible, drastically cutting staff from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which historically advises the President on science policies. A ray of hope comes through today, as we now have two percent of our national legislative body able to speak the language of STEM, and while this may seem insignificant, it’s a potential totem of positive things to come. 

The Trump Administration has made repeated attempts to remove scientific facts from policy discussions – trusting “gut feelings” over data. When making policy decisions on complex issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear disarmament, and healthcare, any president needs expert advisers to make the most informed decisions possible. Instead, President Trump has worked to prune our scientific agencies, including DOE, the EPA and DHHS, forcing out seasoned experts that may disagree with his policy decisions and his base. The Paris Climate Agreement, for example, was a major accomplishment of the previous administration, not only addressing the devastating effects of global warming, but as a powerful demonstration of American leadership. Trump has taken the United States out of the Agreement, and has fervently supported the EPA’s rollback on carbon pollution standards. These decisions politicize scientific fact, and cripple our standing in the global community. 

As scientific research continues to evolve and become ever more sophisticated, revolutionary discoveries are made possible. We should be progressing as a nation, to meet these grand challenges we all share; it is the responsibility of our government to act in the nation’s best interest, to ensure that forward gains are not thwarted for political purpose. So, while there may only be seven individuals in Congress with STEM backgrounds (three engineers, two medical experts, a biochemist and a software engineer), their elections, along with a host of new and unique American perspectives among the new freshmen in Congress, should give all of us something to look forward to: truth before tribalism. In this way, restoring science to its rightful place will restore the checks and balances of power, and promote transparency across all branches of our government. 

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