Why science matters this election year

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I grew up loving politics. At age 11, I watched my mom run for and win a city commissioner position in our small town in Ohio. In 7th grade, I wrote Ronald Reagan a detailed letter with my solution for lowering the national debt. In high school, I was active on student council, and by senior year, I was president. I also took part in the presidential classroom program, and I fell in love with our nation’s capital. It seemed to me that government was the way to make a difference in the world.

In my junior year of college, I applied for a White House summer internship. I asked a biology professor and a government professor to write my recommendations. The government professor wrote a luminous one right away, no questions asked. He even gave me a copy. The biology professor asked to meet with me, and she questioned me extensively why a science major would ever want to do such a program. I told her I thought I could make a difference, and I had some ideas for health care. She was very discouraging. I never did find out what she wrote in that letter, but I did not get the internship.

That is the time I stopped caring about politics. I figured my biology professor was right. Science majors do not belong in government. I began to follow politics sporadically, and I did not even vote in every election. I figured whoever won would still “keep the trains running on time.” I went to medical school, and I decided I could make a difference in helping people, one patient at a time. I have been doing that for the last sixteen years.

This year, however, everything has changed. With 202,000 Americans dying from COVID-19 thus far, the U.S.’s fumbled response to the virus has been devastating. It is evident that science needs to be factored into policy decisions. Our country needs leadership that believes in medical experts and evidenced-based research. This month, for the first time in 175 years, the esteemed publication Scientific American was compelled to endorse a presidential candidate.

Furthermore, racial unrest in our country is a massive public health crisis. We need a leader who is committed to enacting meaningful actions to improve race relations. The forest fires in our Western United States further illustrate the immediate need for further environmental policies to combat climate change. 2020 is the year where scientists need to come to the table with politicians. The health of our country depends on it.

Sarah C. Smith is a family physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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