Theresa May and Donald Trump are set to hold face-to-face talks today (January 27) – making Mrs May the first foreign leader to visit the White House since Mr Trump became president. Subjects such as the future of Nato, Brexit, and security and intelligence co-operation are set to feature prominently in the talks. But on both sides of the Atlantic, professionals working in STEM are worried.
President Trump has repeatedly claimed that climate change is a hoax and many of his Cabinet picks have questioned the proven safety of vaccines, while one of the President’s first actions was to freeze grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Meanwhile, in Britain, Brexit is casting huge doubts over the funding of STEM R&D and freedom of movement – both of which are vital to the sector. At the moment Britain participates in EU-funded research programmes, allowing for cross-border collaboration. While freedom of movement makes it easier for UK companies, universities, and research facilities to hire the brightest minds. If the STEM sector is not supported post-Brexit, industry professionals have warned the affects could be ‘catastrophic.’
But the STEM sector is fighting back. In the States, scientists have been asking themselves how they can challenge Trump’s administration on subjects like climate change, funding, and vaccination. A newly formed group called 314 Action believe they have the answer – Get elected to office. The world-renown Engineer Elon Musk, on the other hand, believes he has Trump’s ear and can be his ‘voice of reason.’
Back in Britain, scientists are planning a mass-lobby of parliament over Brexit worries on Tuesday (January 31). The grassroots campaign group Science is Vital believe that that leaving the EU will hurt scientific research and the government must do more to protect and support the STEM industry.
So it’s clear that the STEM sector is picking up the fight, on both sides of the Atlantic. But will this fight be successful and what is the strategy? Shaugnessy Naughton, founder of 314 Action, argues that scientists have traditionally seen themselves above politics. That may will be the case and that is one major obstacle that must be overcome if the STEM industry is to get its voice heard by politicians in the UK and the US.
But getting STEM professionals into politics must not be the only approach. In the UK, particularly, having a few more MPs from industry, or involved in political circles, will not give the STEM industry a big enough voice to effect change. What it needs is support from the public. But therein lies biggest problem – the ability to communicate with the public and explain why this industry is so important.
The industry has traditionally struggled with breaking down often complex matters and voicing their thoughts in a way ordinary people can understand. But doing this is key. If the STEM industry can drill down to matters that really hit home it has a much better chance of getting its voice heard by both May and Trump.
Why is STEM so important? How many jobs will be lost if the STEM sector can no longer collaborate with the rest of the EU? Why is this breakthrough cancer drug being delayed? How many people could die due to climate change over the next 10 years? If these types of issues can be communicated to the public and the sector can drum up a grassroots public support, while continuing to argue their corner on the political stage, it might just have a loud enough voice to truly make a difference.
Blog by Danny Mitchell, Senior Account Executive