For a few years now, I’ve been using the same one-liner to summarize my point of view—and my frustration, at times—about the intersection of science and politics. The exact wording varies, but it goes something like this: “Science, by its truest nature, isn’t political; it’s based on the pursuit of facts. I can’t help it if the facts don’t jibe with your politics.”
It’s a somewhat idyllic notion, this idea that data—the findings that inform everything from public health mandates to how we fight wildfires—can be uncoupled from the thoughts and opinions of the elected officials who set those directions. Because, at the end of the day, science also informs everything, opinions included. And there’s data to back up more-or-less any opinion out there (some, of course, more robustly than others.)
So, what should we, as a popular scientific publication, do when election season rolls around? How do we help our readers, regardless of their politics, navigate the morass of platforms, polls, and the relentless onslaught of the 24-hour news cycle? To cut through the divisions and focus on the facts of the matter? We wrestled with this idea a bit before the answer became overwhelmingly clear: If science, and scientifically supported conclusions, can guide policymakers as they mold their platforms, shouldn’t it also guide the electorate in selecting those very policymakers?
The theme of our election coverage this year is simple: How to vote well.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore what every committed voter needs to know before, during, and after casting their ballot—and how they can apply methodical, scientific thinking to exercising this core democratic right.
And as if a pandemic, broiling civil unrest, increasingly extreme weather, rising seas, and raging wildfires hadn’t made 2020 intense enough, the electoral process itself this year is rife with complications. Mail-in ballots. Social media manipulation. Deep fakes. It’s overwhelming, but we’re here to help. Expect pointers on how to parse polling data and election graphics, strategies to vet candidates and navigate contentious conversations, and answers to surprisingly complicated questions like “why can’t we just vote online?”
We’ll also take dives into the state of front-line scientific issues, from infrastructure spending to net neutrality. A big part of that is tracking where we’ve made progress since 2016, where we’ve lost ground, and where we need to focus our energy going forward. Even if your candidate of choice is already at the helm, campaign season is an opportunity for constituents to press officials to devote attention to—or change their minds on—core issues.
All this, a stockpile of data-backed advice and proven facts, is carefully designed to lay neutral ground. If, at the end of this coverage or at any point along the route, we help you make a more informed decision come November, well then, we’ve done our job.