It’s Time to Ask Ourselves: What Would Ben Franklin Do?

, former deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | February 12, 2013, 4:53 pm EDT
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Every one of us can think of a recent time when science has been misrepresented by a politician, company spokesperson, or self-appointed expert. The issues are many. Vaccine safety. Global warming. Guns. Fracking. You might begin to think that in America, facts have always been subservient to hype.

But that simply isn’t the case. As we’ve done research to support the new Center for Science and Democracy at UCS, I’ve been surprised at how closely science and American democracy were intertwined from the very beginning of our great republic. From the very beginning, scientific values have been American values.

The framers of our Constitution embraced science and employed the power of reason– and even the laws of physics– to shape our great republic. So we put together a short video exploring the relationship between science and American Democracy, including what the Founding Fathers derived from Newton’s third law of motion:

We hope to use this video to get people to think about how science has made America great and how science can help keep America strong. But we know that more people need to see it. So with President’s Day coming up, I’m asking you to share this video with three people who you think should watch.

But wait – there’s more.

I want to know what you think about science and democracy. What’s your favorite example of a situation where policymakers utilized science to make our world better, or where government researchers applied science to improve our quality of life? Submit your example through the comments section of this post. It could be on any issue, from air pollution to the food supply to endangered species. The more creative and interesting (yet truthful), the better.

The person who submits the one I like the most will receive this amazing t-shirt:

There’s a lot out there. A student named Jacob Milligan recently made a couple of websites showing what NASA has accomplished over the years. There’s a version safe for your kids and a version that’s not.

Anyone with a U.S. mailing address can enter. I’ll pick a winner when I’m back from vacation on February 19, right after President’s Day. (In the spirit of fair play, UCS employees and their families should resist entering.) My decision is final, yadda yadda yadda. You can pick the size, but I can only get this in a female fit.

So please comment below. I’m sure Ben Franklin would have wanted it.


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  • Marisa L

    For a lack of originality, I’m going with the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 in California, which was created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since it’s the 12th largest emitter of carbon in the world. Believe it or not, it was signed into law by then Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is an accomplishment in itself!

  • Andrew R.

    Map-21 is the federal government’s effort to bring performance management in transportation to the state level of government. With the data they hope to generate, and the targets they hope to set, government will be able to concentrate on problem areas more effectively and manage their resources more efficiently.

  • Amanda C

    Science has transformed the lives of countless people around the world through innovations in medicine and public health practices. For example, advances in virology and immunology have made it possible for 8 million people to receive life-saving treatment for HIV today. These scientific advances are able to help so many people because they have been applied in public policy such as the Ryan White CARE Act and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Furthermore, this integration of science and policy exists because of the work of activists, including scientists, all over the world! To learn more about HIV science and policy, see here: To support continued U.S. support for evidenced based programs to stop HIV and AIDS, go here:

  • NOAA, (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization), was founded in 1807 by one of our most insightful leaders, Thomas Jefferson, to make our coasts safe for commerce. It was our first scientific agency, originally charged with the Survey of the Coast. Impacts on our quality of life in the United States have been, and continue to be, massive. NOAA’s work is a necessary background for the basic needs of human life that we take for granted, such as durable shelters and continuously available food. But it is also the necessary background for innovations (NASA, the airlines, fishing, our military, oil exploration and so much more). More than ‘weather forecasting’, NOAA studies the dynamic interactions of our planet’s climate systems, allowing individuals, companies and our nation to understand and predict changes that will affect quality of life (and profits!).

    Choosing a favorite NOAA/policy partnership is like choosing one’s favorite star, but I’ll just point to Hurricane Sandy as an exemplar of the way science and policy enhance and protect human life. While Sandy’s impacts were terrible, without NOAA and the disaster prevention policies developed to pro-actively deal with hurricanes (warning systems, etc), and without the realtime actions of impacted area politicians on both sides of the aisle who used the science to back their decisions, Sandy’s impacts would have been a tragedy of almost unimaginable scale. Thank you, NOAA!


    NOAA’s Mission:
    Science, Service, and Stewardship.
    To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts,
    To share that knowledge and information with others, and
    To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

    NOAA’s Vision of the Future:
    Resilient Ecosystems, Communities, and Economies.
    Healthy ecosystems, communities, and economies that are resilient in the face of change

  • Judy Nedrow

    There are so many. I’ll go with The Endangered Species Act. As humans, we need to protect the species that cannot protect themselves. Our planet is less amazing without them.

  • Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement