Registering the Twitter handle @SenatorPhD and championing the campaign slogan “Liberty, Equality, Reality,” campus professor of molecular and cell biology Michael Eisen announced his bid in January to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
A former researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Eisen studied how the genomic sequences responsible for gene expression work and evolve. Eisen said he is running for office as an independent in order to restore evidence-based decision making in Congress and to represent the scientific community in politics.
“I feel like we spend too little time with the way our legislature makes their decisions and too much time on what they’ve already decided,” Eisen said. “The real truth is, I think I and a lot of other people would benefit from having scientists in politics.”
Eisen expressed his frustration over what he perceives as parties exclusively gathering information supporting their respective political agendas instead of readily challenging their own preconceived notions, and using these facts to “see the world as it is.”
He pointed out the debate over climate change as an example, saying there are politicians who deny its existence and dismiss any evidence that contradicts their viewpoint. Eisen added that even those who do believe in climate change do not ask questions about the issues in order to inform their decisions.
“You have to accept a certain long set of views, whether or not you believe them or whether or not they’re based in reality,” Eisen said. “I don’t see in either party a perfect alignment in things they claim and plan to do and reality.”
Colleague and molecular and cell biology department co-chair David Drubin voiced his support for Eisen’s Senate bid. According to Drubin, many of the scientists he knows are concerned about science literacy and the dangers of a lack of evidence-based policymaking.
He added that there was also fear over politicians trying to influence the practice of science by suppressing the work of some scientists, such as by manipulating results in accordance with their political opinions. For instance, Drubin noted that in the 1960s Harvard sugar scandal, sugar industries paid researchers to conclude that fat was a bigger problem than sugar — which was widely believed for a period of time until additional studies proved otherwise.
“Scientists really feel if (Eisen’s Senate bid) helps address these issues about scientific literacy and getting policies based on evidence, it’s a great thing,” Drubin said. “Hopefully there’ll be more of it in the future.”
Eisen cited UC Berkeley students as a major factor in his decision to pursue the Senate seat. When teaching his genetics class to undergraduates, he said he was struck by his students’ enthusiasm for science as well as the diverse experiences they possessed.
Another student, Ben Gould, also influenced Eisen. Gould is a scientist and engineer himself, currently a campus graduate student of public policy and environmental engineering, and is running for the District 4 seat in the Berkeley City Council.
Gould said he expects Eisen to face many of the difficulties he dealt with when first establishing his campaign for mayor, such as fundraising, organization and achieving name recognition.
He remarked, however, that he looks forward to Eisen’s campaign and believes Eisen’s experience as a scientist working to understand and resolve unfamiliar challenges will enable him to overcome these obstacles.
“I want to see what (Eisen) achieves in Washington. D.C., if he gets elected and how he’ll represent the people of California,” Gould said.
Although Eisen has never held political office before, he has previously been involved in politics. For the past two decades, he has advocated for more transparency when scientists publish their findings. He has also lobbied in places such as Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
He said he thinks his biggest test will be getting people to take him seriously, and added that he intends to put his best efforts forward.
“Even if it’s a long shot to win that Senate seat, it would be a chance to get these issues talked about and seen in the public consciousness, and encourage other people to get involved in politics,” Eisen said.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Michael Eisen is a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In fact, Eisen no longer works at the lab.