What’s the most important local political race to you this year (as a citizen, as a scientist)?
I have to pick just one? There are two important Board of Education races in the area where a creationist can get ousted. There’s an Attorney General’s race where a panty-sniffing, science textbook fearing wacko can get the boot. There is a competitive House race in which a rubber-stamp for the bad actions of the Bush administration can be outpaced. Plus, a member of the House Science committee who has helped protect the integrity of federal science is up for re-election in a seat that many still regard as vulnerable. Across the border, Missourians are voting on whether to allow life-saving research in their state, or if they should pass up those opportunities. The issue of stem cell research has also divided the Senate candidates, with the incumbent railing against that research and the challenger standing up for this important research.
All of those races are important to me as a citizen and as a scientist, and I find myself wanting to answer differently depending on which hat I’m wearing.
The greatest opportunity that November 7 will give us all is to set this country on a new course. That course would abandon the War on Science we’ve seen over the last few years, and stop other wars from further damaging our credibility and honor. Electing Nancy Boyda has been a major priority of mine for that reason: as a citizen, I want to see change.
As a scientist, I see importance in that national election, too. Electing a trained chemist with experience in the pharmaceutical industry will obviously benefit science and science policy. The scientific mindset – especially its respect for evidence – will be a welcome change from Jim Ryun’s party-line ideological voting.
Even so, the scientist in me knows that providing a good science education is important for how science policy will be set a century from now, as well as today. Electing Don Weiss and Jack Wempe will set the stage for generations of Kansans to have a better understanding of science, and that understanding is vital to achieving progress down the line.
This conflict between short-term goals with flashier impacts and long-term goals with nebulous consequences is common attempts at setting science policy. It’s like the chant in a Simpsons episode:
What do we want?
The gradual phase-out of animal testing over the next three years!
When do we want it?
Over the next three years!
That’s the way that good policy is established and maintained, but it isn’t how politics operates.