September 28, 2006
Scientists forming a 527 but will it be relevant?
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Science + Politics
Their raison d'entrée is, "...electing public officials who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy."
Good: a group of concerned citizens banding together to advocate their issue.
Bad: Despite a stated aim to be nonpartisan, the group's very birth is a response to partisan politics, which makes it political by default.
The bad doesn't necessarily outweigh the good for SEforA, but it does illustrate what will be its biggest challenge. The challenge won't be affecting races or having an impact on the process, but on becoming staunchly nonpartisan and burnishing time and again its nonpartisan credentials. If it can successfully manage that, then SEforA can become relevant and salient, partnering with politicians from both parties. If not, then SEforA will become a de facto Democrat advocacy group, ignored by the Republicans whenever they are in power. Unfortunately the origins of SEforA speak to its partisan upbringing by using two Clinton Administration science advisors as headliners and using language that sounds like it came straight from Chris Mooney's book and the UCS report: "...when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interests ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research."
Here's hoping that SEforA works immediately toward nonpartisanship, realizing that they will have some work to do in convincing Republicans that their early, seemingly inherent links to the Democratic Party are nonbinding.
I'm currious about how this organization will differ from the Union of Concerned Scientists which seems to be involved in the same sort of politics. The USC is a 501(c)(3) organization rather then a 527. There does not seem to be a mission statement on the UCS web site, but they do have a section on scientific integrity and political interference in science.
Posted by: Nosmo at September 28, 2006 11:13 AM
Different only from this standpoint: nobody in DC thinks of the UCS as nonpartisan -- they are generally regarded as left-leaning, which makes it easier for Republicans to ignore their work. The SEforA seems from the outset to want to avoid this scenario, which they may or may not be able to pull off. Only time will tell.
One thing to note: 527 is specifically a political advocacy designation, giving the organization the ability to raise and distribute money in election campaigns (which is not true for 501(c)(3)'s). One way the SEforA can make sure they stay nonpartisan is to support as many R's as D's in campaigns.
Posted by: kevin v at September 28, 2006 12:48 PM
That name also closely reflects Scientists and Engineers for Johnson, which promoted LBJ over Goldwater. According to Daniel Greenberg in his book "Science, Money, and Politics" that particular mobilization may have been one of the factors leading to the Nixon backlash, which included getting rid of the Science advisor to the president and PSAC.
Posted by: Nathaniel Logar at September 28, 2006 02:08 PM
Kevin- The Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com/news/article/1055/science-activists-hope-to-make-a-difference-in-november-elections provides some further details on the group:
“Political activists this week formed a new political committee to challenge political leaders—namely, Republicans, for now—who the critics say have distorted scientific findings to fit their policy preferences.”
That Scientists and Engineers for America is supporting Democrats is not surprising given its origin as Scientists and Engineers for Change which supported John Kerry in the 2004 election (background http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/28/politics/campaign/28policy.html)
“It is a successor to one that formed in 2004 to support the presidential campaign of John Kerry but then disbanded.”
I have absolutely no problem with any group organizing to advance their interests, even if those interests are best represented by one party. That is democracy at work. Problems will arise if they assert that "science" compels particular candidates rather than clearly describing the values that they seek to advance.
Their "Bill of Rights" is pretty hokey. And this statement is just bizarre: "While scientists may elect to withhold methods or studies that might be misused there shall be no federal prohibition on publication of basic research results."
In any case I can't imagine that they'll have much electoral impact. Their contributions to the further politicization of science will be worth watching.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 29, 2006 08:06 AM