Why Former U.S Chief Data Scientist, D.J. Patil, Is Marching and You Should Too

by March for Science

A letter from D.J. Patil, former U.S. Chief Data Scientist. This post was originally published on Medium, and shared here with Patil's permission.

On April 22 I’ll be joining fellow Americans from around the country to show our support for science. In addition to Washington, DC, there are more than 500 marches planned all around the world! I’ll be speaking and marching at our hometown march in San Francisco alongside with Mythbusters’ Adam Savage and many other great scientists.

Why am I and my family coming out to march for science? It’s not just because I’m a data scientist or trained as a mathematician. When I think about the single most important thing that keeps powering the engine of America, it’s science. And, when I look back at my time at the White House and I think about the most impactful events and people that stick with me, the common thread is science.

Take for example, Johnny Matheny, who I was lucky to meet at the our White House Design For All Summit. Johnny is an amputee, but thanks to science and technology, he has a prosthetic arm that he can control just by thinking about it. That’s right — mind control. How good is the science and technology that he’s using? So good that he can shake my hand with a light touch and, yet, strong enough to crush my skull.

Or take Rebecca and Kimberly. As 9 and 11-year-old sisters, they launched a spacecraft! I don’t know what you were doing at 11, but I wasn’t even close to their level.

How about Sanjana Rane? She’s working on renal (kidney) failure. A problem that impacts thousands of lives and costs the nation more than $30 billion each year.

I think about all the amazing families I’ve met who are fighting cancer or searching for cures for rare diseases. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from helping establish the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot, it’s as a country we have an incredible infrastructure that is primed to find cures. We have have vast computing resources, big data, artificial intelligence, the most cutting edge genomic testing, physicians, scientists, and research institutions that are the envy of the world. But we can’t it for granted. We’ve gotten here from decades of investment in science and scientists.

We need to be doubling down on science and technology now. I’ve looked too many families in the eye and seen their pain knowing that science isn’t moving fast enough for them to see a cure. Finding a cure means investing in science. Not just one aspect of science. ALL SCIENCE. Math, biology, oceanography, atmospheric sciences, physics, astronomy, chemistry, material science, computer science, electrical engineering, and even data science. We have to invest in all of it. Today, tomorrow, and every day going forward.

I hope you’ll join me and march for science.


-D.J. Patil

About the Author

D.J. Patil

Former U.S. Chief Data Scientist

Trained as a mathematician, Dr. Patil was appointed by President Obama to be the first U.S. chief data scientist, Patil’s efforts led to the establishment of nearly 40 chief data officer positions across the US government. He also established new health care programs and new criminal justice reforms including the Data-Driven Justice and Police Data Initiatives, as well as leading the national data efforts.

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