Who Else Stood Up for Science in 2014? Our Members’ Picks

December 15, 2014
Aaron Huertas
Former contributor

When we announced our Got Science? champs for 2014, we asked our members whose story inspired them the most. We also asked them to share stories about other people who stood up for science in 2014. We received about 500 responses; here are some highlights:

Don’t mess with Texas (or children’s education)

Kathy Miller’s story struck quite a nerve with our members. Miller and her group – the Texas Freedom Network – successfully lobbied major publishers to remove misinformation about climate science from student textbooks.

Kathy Miller and the Texas Freedom Network stood up for science when it came to how climate change was discussed in textbooks.

Kathy Miller and the Texas Freedom Network stood up for science when it came to how climate change was discussed in textbooks.

Some Texans wrote to emphasize what an uphill battle Miller fought, given the state’s long history of politicians meddling with science education. Several teachers wrote to say they felt like they also take a stand for science in their classrooms, too, especially on topics like evolution and climate change.

There are very few celebrity science communicators

Naturally, we heard from a lot of folks who wanted to single out “Science Guy” Bill Nye and astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Rachel W. of Normal, Ohio also shared my favorite Tyson quote: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

We couldn’t agree more, though we wanted to focus on highlighting champions who might not be household names. That said, it’s striking how few scientists and science communicators have positions of national prominence. It made me wonder who the next Bill Nye or Neil DeGrasse Tyson could be. They both seem to have taken up the mantle of the late Carl Sagan, who another member suggested as a “legacy” champion.

People also wrote in support of several celebrity science ambassadors included HBO’s Bill Maher and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. Many of our members also expressed admiration for author and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, a powerful science communicator in his own right, as well as Canadian scientist and educator David Sazuki.

Politicians are standing up for science, too

A writer from Saint Louis, Missouri wanted to congratulate Republican leaders who are talking about how to respond to climate change — and who accept established science on the topic. The writer pointed to Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), who recently said he’d introduce a resolution on climate science in the House. Similarly, Bloomberg News’s Dave Weigel recently wrote about incoming Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who wants to figure out how to help Louisiana respond to rising seas. Although Rep. Graves declined to get into what’s causing sea level rise, he told Weigel, “For us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening is idiotic, and it puts the lives of 2 million people who live in south Louisiana in jeopardy.”

A Damariscotta, Maine resident also pointed us to State Representative Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), who spearheaded the creation of a state ocean acidification commission to help deal with threats to Maine’s waters and fisheries. What surprised me about this story is that Rep. Devin is a marine biologist by training. It’s great to see scientists successfully run for public office and put their expertise to work on behalf of their constituents.

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on out there

Bernhard W. of Loerrach, Texas suggested someone I hadn’t heard much about before: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst. Gerst used social media to great effect while aboard the International Space Station. He connected with hundreds of thousands of online followers to share science and also to add a human perspective from a very special perch.

What struck me as most obvious from up there was that on our tiny planet everything is connected #TwitterTuesday pic.twitter.com/MoZLyo007Y

— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) December 9, 2014

A California member pointed us to Benjamin Thompson, who is working on a surfboard fin that can collect ocean data such as temperature and salinity. His vision? Turn the world’s surfers into citizen scientists.

Another writer told us about student filmmakers from Carlsbad High School in California who produced a documentary debunking the link between early childhood vaccines and autism. Despite criticism from groups that overstate risks from vaccines, and an offer from their teacher to take on a less charged topic, the students stood their ground, according to a writeup from the Poynter Institute.

Thinking of unsung heroes

In naming Got Science? champs, we concentrated on men, women, and groups that stood up for science on sometimes fraught issues: an emergency chemical spill, climate education, vaccines, sea level rise in Florida.

But more than a few of our members who wrote in told us about standing up for science in very simple, straightforward ways: educating children, working with scientists on local public welfare and education issues, and joining up with citizen science initiatives, to cite a few examples.

It was a good reminder that we can find ways to stand up for science every day.