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Fearing Climate Change Policy Under Trump, STEM Group Works To Get Scientists Elected


There's been a lot of talk about how the election of Donald Trump has sparked a new energy and engagement in politics on both the right and the left. We're going to hear now the story of a mobilization of scientists concerned that the Trump administration could upend years of work on climate change. Some scientists are worried about President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator who's criticized EPA rules on climate change, clean air and water, and those concerns are prompting some scientists to move beyond just advocating for science to organizing and even running for office.

One such group is called 314 Action which aims to prepare doctors, scientists, engineers and mathematicians to get more involved in politics. Its founder is Shaughnessy Naughton, a business owner with a chemistry degree who ran for Congress in Pennsylvania, albeit unsuccessfully. I began our conversation by asking her how she came up with the name 314 Action.

SHAUGHNESSY NAUGHTON: Three, one, four are the first three digits of pi which is used throughout the sciences, and part of why I founded this organization was one of my observations from when I ran for Congress, I was really surprised at the lack of people with scientific or technical backgrounds. And I think we all benefit by having diversity of experience in government. And so I founded 314 Action to unite the scientific community and to encourage them to go beyond the traditional role of advocacy and actually get involved in electoral politics.

MARTIN: So I understand that you called 314 Action an Emily's List for scientists, and for people who don't know, Emily's List is a group that's been around for - what? - a couple of decades now that raises money for promising democratic women candidates at all levels who favor abortion rights. Are there similar baseline positions that must be adhered to for your group to support these candidates?

NAUGHTON: Well, our number-one criteria is that you have a scientific or technical background. At this point, we are only supporting Democratic candidates, and although we want to see more Republicans take action on mitigating the effects of climate change, currently the difference in the two party platforms made us feel we had to pick a team.

MARTIN: Well, so I'm thinking about the fact that physicians are actually well-represented in the current administration and have been in Congress for some time. I'm thinking about President Trump's nominee for Health Secretary - Tom Price is a physician. Former Congressman Ron Paul was a physician. His son Rand Paul, the senator, was an ophthalmologist. All of them are conservatives, and I'm wondering why is that?

NAUGHTON: Well, I think the nature of careers as, especially as independent practitioners for physicians, it does allow for greater flexibility and the ability to take time out of their career without being punished for it later. But what we are trying to do, although we include physicians in our umbrella group, we really want to bring people in from teaching, from research, from fields that are under-represented currently.

MARTIN: Shaughnessy Naughton is a chemist, an entrepreneur, she's the founder of 314 Action. That's a group that aims to encourage scientists people from the STEM fields - science technology, engineering and math - to run for elective office. She was kind enough to join us from our member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Shaughnessy Naughton, thank you so much for speaking with us.

NAUGHTON: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.