Run, Forrest, Run!
Day drinking with a scientist, teacher, and State House of Representatives District 76 hopeful
(West Kenosha Street and South 145th East Avenue, Broken Arrow)
The return of “Day Drinking” to these pages is off to an inauspicious reboot. First of all, it’s 5:30 p.m. (my fault), and secondly, we’re not drinking (my guest would rather not). Add to this false start that we’re at a Starbucks in Broken Arrow. But it turns out that Forrest Mayer is worth the change of format. In fact, he’s everything you want in an aspiring politician: young, full of energy, idealistic, and hoping to make change in his community.
Beau Adams: So, tell me about your background. What’s your day job?
Forrest Mayer: I am an informal science teacher. My job for the past six years has been to go into every public school, private school, daycare center, summer camp, library, college—wherever there are students between the ages of eight and 18—and perform cool, flashy science demonstrations and not just teach science but give students a “taste for science.”
Adams: Do you teach evolution?
Mayer: My primary field of research is in integrative organism biology, so I study evolution every day.
Adams: You ever get kicked out of a place of learning for teaching evolution?
Mayer: Not so much kicked out, but there have been places where I certainly have not been asked to return because of my teaching. To give you an idea of how bad it is, a public school teacher in Oklahoma is not supposed to use the word “evolution.” You can use “adaptation.” Adaptation can be divinely driven. But since I’m usually showing up in a capacity where I am outside of the administration, I can bring up and have conversations about evolution.
Adams: Are there really children that don’t believe in evolution? It seems almost criminal that their parents and churches would do that to them.
Mayer: The worst of it is that there are children that don’t even have a basic understanding of science. They have been taught that science is a matter of opinion, and they choose not to believe in it. What I teach them is that science isn’t a matter of belief, science isn’t a matter of opinion, science doesn’t have anything to do with your political party—science is a matter of facts and evidence.
Adams: Can science and religion live together?
Mayer: In my opinion, no, they are not compatible. Because the point of science is to use deductive reasoning to learn more about the universe, regardless of your level of comfort in what you learn. The universe is under no obligation to make us feel good about what we discover. We follow facts and only facts. Religion, on the other hand, is based on the idea of accepting things without evidence.
Adams: I believe “faith” is the operative concept.
Mayer:Exactly. The whole point is that you need to be okay with this set of ideas for no reason other than “because I told you so.” It’s based on authority, it’s based on dogma, and it’s based on doctrine—all things that science vehemently opposes because those things can obstruct the truth. There is no authority in science. Lawrence Krauss is one of the greatest physicists and cosmologists in the world, in my opinion. If I find evidence to disprove his theories and that evidence is tested and scientifically proven, then my theories are now the prevailing theories. There is no hierarchy that will hold his work above mine. Science just wants facts.
All that being said, I believe on a personal level that a person can be a scientist and also be a person of faith. It doesn’t work for me, but I have seen it work for others.
Adams: So, you’re running as an atheist Democrat from Broken Arrow? Are you crazy?
Mayer: Look, as a kid I grew up very poor. My family relied on food stamps and other social safety nets. I’ve seen since very early on that this state isn’t built for me—it doesn’t have my best interests or its people’s best interests at heart. I grew up like most people, with other people saying, “Somebody’s got to do something about this. Somebody needs to get in there and change the way all of this works.” I finally hit the age where I was like, “You know what—I’m somebody.” I’m idealistic. I want to be the person that makes the world a better place.
Adams: Well, let’s talk about that. Given your background and beliefs, what can you do in one of the reddest states in the country?
Mayer: Last year when I would knock on doors and tell people about myself, all they wanted to know was my political affiliation. Once I told them I was a Democrat, the conversation was over. This year I’m seeing something different. Fewer people want to know who I am and more people want to know what I’m going to do. That’s good news. That tells me that people are waking up and realizing that the promises made to them by their party on the local and national levels have not come true. Now people are interested in who can fix it.
Adams: I’m going to read a quote of yours I found because I think it’s interesting: “I am a science educator who believes that Oklahoma is long overdue for an update. Our laws are outdated, our technology is obsolete, and our legislature’s priorities are petty and narrow-minded. Our grand state is quickly falling behind. In many places, it already has.
“I see the lessons of science as guides to effective public policy. When making decisions, I rely on evidence and reason rather than emotion and tradition in order to ensure that issues are solved fairly, rationally, and in an innovative manner. My goal is to bring Oklahoma into the 21st century and put us on the cutting edge of industry, education, and technology.”
I don’t think I can remember someone running here on a science platform. Explain what that means to you.
Mayer: Well, first and foremost, it means let’s take emotion, religion, and speculation out of the debate, and let’s apply scientific theory. I see these things at the state capitol and the embarrassment our lawmakers bring upon the good people of our state, and a lot of it is because we are not being scientific. There are facts. For every bill that is introduced, there are mountains of data to be scrutinized and there are examples of how other states have handled issues that need to be looked at and dealt with rationally. Using facts and data and best practices and common sense, we can get this state operating the way it needs to in order to serve its people. But we need to be scientific about it. We need to leave emotion and religion and other non-provable factors out of the process. That type of politics is what has gotten us into the mess we are currently in.