Popular Science

These scientists may be your next members of Congress

We spoke to candidates with science backgrounds from across the political spectrum

Nurses, nuclear engineers, computer scientists and biochemists all over the country are bidding for seats in Congress. These candidates share a commitment to bringing evidence-based decision-making to government and a desire for elected officials to better reflect the varied backgrounds and professions of their constituents. (Unlike the average citizen, most senators hold law degrees.)

Many of these candidates are newcomers to politics, bolstered by groups like 314 Action, which provides resources to aspiring politicians with scientific backgrounds. Others have already launched political careers at state and national levels. Regardless, their scientific training has grounded them throughout their professional lives, a sensibility they hope to bring to government.

Sean Casten

Casten is a big fan of Immanuel Kant and thinks the late, great philosopher could teach us a thing or two about decision-making

Casten for Congress

1. Sean Casten

Where he’s running: Illinois-- 6th district
Party: Democrat
Science Background: Biochemical engineer
Prior position: Clean energy entrepreneur

How did you come to work in the clean energy sector?

For my whole professional career I’ve been concerned about climate change. I went to graduate school to work on biofuel research and fell in love with the idea that you could make industrial processes more efficient with pretty simple technological changes. That basically informed everything I did afterwards.

How did your work in energy expand into politics?

If you are working on a problem, my mentality is to figure out where the bottleneck is and focus on that. At first, I thought the bottleneck was basic science. Then, I realized there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in efficiency that’s not being done. That led to founding a number of businesses. In the course of building those companies, we kept running into these policy barriers, blocking action that made technical, economic, and environmental sense. That’s what got me involved in clean energy advocacy. I joke with friends that you can’t change the laws of thermodynamics, you can’t chance the laws of economics, but you can change the laws of the United States.

How has your scientific background informed running your businesses and now, running for office?

If you’re trained in the sciences, you are taught to be skeptical in the scientific sense of the term. When we used to hire young engineers or financial analysts, I would encourage them to read the philosopher Immanuel Kant, which sounds totally nerdy. But Kant had this thing that you can’t prove anything is true, all you

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