Skepticism

This “Pro-Science” Political Charity Actually Sucks

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Remember that episode in season 10 of The Simpsons, in which Lisa joins MENSA and the group ends up taking over as mayor of Springfield in order to improve the lives of the idiot residents, but it all goes horribly wrong when they wanted to ban sports and we all learned that actually maybe having the smartest people in charge of government wouldn’t create the utopia we think it would?

Anyway, do you also remember in 2016 when Donald Trump became president of the United States and immediately began dismantling everything science-related, like making “climate change” a dirty word and firing a bunch of researchers, amongst other things? And remember how this stoked a lot of people to call for more intellectuals and scientists to run for public office, because we not only need to re-prioritize governmental funding of scientific research but also because we need more evidence-based policy?

Perhaps you see where this is going. 

I’ve always been one of those people who is more inclined to vote for someone with either a scientific background or a strong, vocal support for the sciences. It’s not my number one priority, but all things being equal, sure, I’d probably prefer someone in government who is more likely to respect scientific consensus. And so, back in 2016, I was supportive of organizations that stepped up to focus on making the next election better. That included the newly founded 314 Action, a political action committee (or PAC) focused on getting scientists elected. PACs are nonprofits that fundraise for specific political candidates or causes, which they then donate to achieve their means.

And yes, it’s called “314” because those are the first three digits of pi. Because nerds, amiright?

The founder, Shaughnessy Naughton, told the Washington Post in 2016 that 314 Action would only help Democrats, because Republicans as a party had rejected the scientific consensus on climate change entirely, making it nonsensical for a science-based organization to hand them more power. Makes sense! You could argue that a Republican who has respect for science could change the party (and therefore the country) for the better, but as of 2024 that point is moot: even if a pro-science Republican managed to get into office, they would immediately be beaten to death by a MAGA horde for practicing witchcraft, so in reality it would be a total waste of funds.

Despite 314 being officially founded in 2016, they also told the Washington Post that their first success was actually the prior year, when they say they helped get physicist Andrew Zwicker elected to the New Jersey State Assembly. That was a huge win, because it was the first time a Democrat won that seat and it helped tip the Assembly to a Dem majority. Zwicker went on to win a seat in the New Jersey Senate, where he’s serving now.

What a huge win!! It reminds me of how when MENSA first took over Springfield, they also had some huge wins that led to lifting the city up to number 299 on the list of America’s 300 Most Livable Cities, edging out East St. Louis. That utopia was just in sight, had they only been able to put aside their petty differences and focus on intelligent, evidence-based policy.

And so like MENSA, 314 Action has, just eight years later, royally fucked up everything. Not by demanding that people only have sex once per seven years like the Vulcans, but by secretly accepting millions of dollars from a special interest group to shift focus from electing scientists to another goal altogether.

In all of 2022, 314 Action spent about $1.7 million across all their campaigns. But in April of this year, they spent that same amount on just one candidate: Maxine Dexter, a physician running to serve Oregon’s 3rd congressional district, which includes Portland. Why would they spend their entire budget on this race? Sure, Dexter is a physician, which falls under 314 Action’s purview, but Portland is already solidly Democrat, and her primary opponent, Democrat Susheela Jayapal, is solidly pro-science: Medicare for all, reproductive healthcare, education, and the Green New Deal are all issues she highlights as important to her campaign. Wouldn’t 314 Action’s entire budget be better spent on races where there’s more at stake?

Well, thanks to Ryan Grim at the Intercept, we now know that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, is using 314 Action to secretly launder money to candidates that could unseat Democrats who are calling for Israel to agree to a ceasefire in their ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. This is, you may note, NOT a pro-science position, especially considering all the hospitals and universities Israel keeps demolishing. 

AIPAC could have chosen to fund Dexter directly, but being pro-genocide is a very unpopular position amongst Democrats right now, and so had they done so, her opponents could easily use that fact to destroy her campaign. But since Dexter is a doctor, AIPAC could get away with it by just laundering the money through 314 Action. In order to further hide their hand in the matter, the campaign against Jayapal wasn’t launched until April, which means that 314 Action doesn’t have to reveal the source of their funding until late May, after ballots begin coming in and just one day before in-person voting – far too late for Jayapal to expose the ploy to voters.

Luckily, Grim learned all this from two congressional representatives and a whistleblowing employee of 314 Action, and so now Portland voters can be better informed about which “progressive” they’d prefer: the one who is pro-science and anti-genocide, or the one who is pro-science and absolutely refuses all efforts by anyone to gain any clarity on how she feels about a current ongoing genocide.

Still, you may argue that the PAC is still doing its job: supporting Democrat STEM political candidates. So what if this one is supported by Zionists and refuses to weigh in on one of the greatest unfolding world tragedies happening right now?

Well. The whistleblower at 314 Action also told The Intercept that the organization had planned to do the same thing in another race, funneling more AIPAC money to the race in St. Louis to unseat Representative Cori Bush, another pro-peace politician. The problem was that first of all, The Intercept exposed their tactics in that previous article. And second of all, they were having some trouble anyway because the Zionist candidate they wanted to support, Wesley Bell, is not in any way connected to the sciences. He’s a lawyer, which is particularly funny since the 314 Action founder specifically told the Washington Post in 2016 “There’s nothing in our Constitution that says we can only be governed by attorneys. Especially now, we need people with scientific backgrounds that are used to looking at the facts and forming an opinion based on the facts.”

Because of that, the whistleblower revealed that AIPAC was starting up a new PAC to funnel money through, allowing 314 Action to almost truthfully Tweet that they were NOT going to be funding Cori Bush’s opposition, while completely ignoring all requests to simply disclose their donors.

I guess 314 Action thought they could get away with all this if they mumbled a bit when they spoke. “Please give anything you can to help us fill these seats with *cough*zionists.”

“Sorry, did you say ‘scientists’ or ‘zionists’?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

It’s very sad, because I supported 314 Action’s initial mission but can no longer donate or encourage others to donate to them. As I said, all things being equal I’d probably vote for a scientist over a nonscientist, but unfortunately all things are rarely equal. In this case, I’d rather give my money to organizations like Doctors Without Borders than to accidentally end up supporting a Doctor Who Loves One Particular Border and would prefer Aid to Stop Crossing It.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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