Paul B. Ellis '14: Yes, Science is Political

By Dhruv Pai '22 for Silver Quest

In a thriving democracy like ours, society breeds politics, politics controls science, and science informs both society and politics. This cycle isn’t new information, yet some refuse to acknowledge the intimate interplay between society, politics, and science. Paul B. Ellis (Class of ‘14), National Director of Representative Raskin’s Democracy Summer Program, believes in the importance of the connection between science literacy and policy. Much of his time is spent training high school and college students on the history of progressive change and tactics of political organizing in the US. He then teaches how to put it all into practice. “To springboard a young person’s political involvement in a way that sticks (ideally for life) is a much bigger and longer game than any single election campaign,” he asserts.

When asked for advice for current students considering a career in politics, Ellis has plenty to say. Politics is not commonly associated with STEM subjects, but nowadays, STEM fields are becoming increasingly important to policy. Ellis advises: “Talk to people you disagree with. Learn why they believe what they do. Observe areas of overlapping interests. Listen twice as much as you speak. Take the time to get to know people and what moves them, don’t be a “user” or political operator. Show up to events. Testify on bills. Serve your community in ways that aren’t at all self beneficial. Show up and pitch in, especially when no one is watching and there’s no press or livestream. Recognize the space you take up, don’t assume you’re the smartest in the room, and elevate marginalized voices.”

This career might seem unusual for a Magnet Alumnus. After all, the Science, Mathematics and Computer Sciences program is typically known for propelling students into “pure sciences.” Ellis says his interest in politics was sparked by his dad’s job at both the National Institutes of Health and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He became increasingly invested when his neighbors successfully crusaded for the building of the Forest Glen Pedestrian Bridge across Beltway ramps to get to the Metro.

While at Blair, Ellis wanted to go to graduate school to get a PhD in biology, work on plant research in a lab, and maybe one day advise politicians on science policy or run for office. Ohio State University, as a major research institution, was his top choice as it allowed him to combine his interests in plants and politics. Shifting gears in 2016, he joined Rep. Raskin’s campaign, realizing he would not be content in a laboratory given the current political crisis. One of Ellis’s favorite memories of the Magnet is emceeing the Magnet Arts Night. He also participated in It’s Academic and was a Copy Editor for Silver Chips, both of which were incredible experiences. “To work with and learn from excellent writers on such a great team was really valuable,” Ellis adds.