Inform policy: Vote

Museum Voices: Why taking action for science matters to democracy

social science, human rightsScience Museum of MinnesotaOct 22, 2020

It’s time to vote. But why is voting important, and where does science fit in?

We’ve brought together scientists, equity experts, passionate volunteers, and other Science Museum leaders to answer why science matters in a democracy and how you can inform policy by staying current on science topics and making your voice heard.

The big question: Why is bold science important to democracy?

At the Science Museum of Minnesota, we envision a world where everyone has the power to use science to make lives better. How do we get there? By working to turn on the science, inspire learning, inform policy, and improve lives. 

Here, we’ll focus on how informing policy on science is key to solving big challenges and improving life for everyone, especially people in marginalized communities.

When we asked Nora Beckemeyer, Community Engagement Specialist for Museum Access & Equity, about bold science and democracy, she explained how and why bold science must be used to center people who have been historically overlooked and oppressed, saying "Science is a tool that people can use to observe, interpret, and question the world around them. Ideally, bold science fosters curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking–it can be used as a tool for positive social change and collective liberation."

Like anything, science is a work-in-progress and, over time, many people have been harmed by how science was conducted and designed. Nora explains that "It is necessary to recognize that science has been used historically, and will continue to be used, as evidence to support and justify systems of oppression. In order to use science boldly, we need to be aware of this history."

One great way to do that? Centering Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized communities that have been harmed by and actively excluded from engaging in science, Nora says. Centering their voices matters to science and democracy.

But how do policymakers actually incorporate science into their policies?

Dr. Laurie Fink, Chair of Science, explains, “Both democracy and bold science are centered around people. Scientists study the world around us and our bodies too, to understand how things work. Policymakers can take this information to craft the policies that improve the lives of all people.”

Policymakers and other people in power can make big changes when it comes to many aspects of science that impact our daily lives.

How an elected official decides to act on global warming, pollution, habitat loss, mental healthcare, and so many other science-based issues can alter the quality of life for millions of people. As Ubadah Sabbagh in Scientific American says, “Scientific research doesn’t take place in a vacuum, it can only happen with society’s blessing.” 

In this case, getting society’s blessing means voting for candidates who use science to make the world a better place.

Scientists approach democracy like they approach research—with perseverance

Researchers spend days, months, and years figuring out answers to their hypotheses. Jim Weil, a Research Associate who uses Science Museum collections to uncover new insights about anthropology, believes that “Science is critical to the world because it channels the most significant characteristic of the human species: imagination.” 

In Jim’s own words, science is a way to funnel perceptions, dreams, and hopes into a systematic process that reveals the cause and effect behind occurrences we observe every day.

In summary: Science can be used as a tool to analyze the world and make decisions based on what we find.

Jim has been researching Costa Rican ceramics for 27 years. That’s 236,520 hours! Staying committed to scientific research is a lot like learning and taking action to inform policy: You need to stick with it and you’ll learn a lot about yourself— and the world—along the way.

What does taking action for science look like?

Taking science into consideration is the first step when evaluating candidates and getting involved. But how can you integrate science into your personal and political choices in a meaningful way? 

Patrick Hamilton, our Director of Global Change Initiatives, focuses on how humanity can take care of the planet, encouraging everyone to “Speak out and advocate forcefully for the use of science to help all of us to imagine, design and realize a future in which all of us are able to realize our full potential while being wise stewards of this planet–our only home.” 

Speaking out can take many forms: voting, contacting your representatives, attending local government meetings, supporting non-profits that you believe in, or even being a part of protests or strikes.

First, find areas of science that you’re informed and passionate about, then take action.

Staying up-to-date on the latest science can feel like riding a rollercoaster, but Laurie provides several easy (and maybe even fun!) resources to find relevant scientific information:

Adam Heathcoate, Senior Scientist at the Research Station, gets straight to the point with his action advice: “Vote! Vote for candidates who understand that science is not something you believe in, but the interpretation of objective data. Candidates and voters will not always agree on the best way forward, but they should at least be able to start with the same facts.”

Before you’re ready to vote, it’s vital to understand where candidates stand on scientific topics. Laurie offers some helpful questions to ask or research before voting:

  • Where do you get your science-based information?

  • How will you integrate scientists into future decision making?

  • How are climate change and racial justice connected?

Are you excited to vote?

We are too! Visit vote.gov to register, learn more about voting requirements, and make a voting plan.

Need a quick rundown of how the electoral college works and why you should care? We've got one.