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Volume 22 Issue 9 Page 73
By Edyta Zielinska
The Scientist as Politician
So you want to change the world? It's easier than you think.
When Kathy Barker was a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Medical School during the 1980s, she knew she wanted to do more than just bench work on polymorphonuclear leukocytes, a first line of defense against infection. At that time, the United States was in the midst of its involvement in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and Barker decided to invite speakers to talk about US foreign policy, encouraging her colleagues and friends to attend. "There were people who looked down on me," she says. "You were supposed to be doing science and not other things." Barker's thick skin saved her from too much bruising. It was only the first of many civic actions she would take.
Political issues can crop up even closer to home. When Barker recently learned about a creationist biology teacher in her daughter's school district who refused to teach his students evolution, "I came in with my guns shooting," she says. In retrospect, Barker admits, it may have been the wrong approach. "It didn't earn me any friends," who could have helped her sway the school board. While she made little immediate progress in her first attempt, she learned the school board was resistant because it might mean ousting their only science teacher. She now plans to petition officers of the school district.