Mendeley Brainstorm: Science and Politics – Unhappy Together?

Is it time for researchers to adapt or go on the march?
Is it time for researchers to adapt or go on the march?

The worlds of science and politics appear to be in conflict. Britain voted for Brexit; it’s estimated 90% of British academics voted Remain. Recent policy announcements by the Trump administration have provoked scientists to plan a “March for Science” on Washington DC. Are science and politics destined to clash? We are looking for the most well thought out answer to this question in up to 150 words: use the comment feature below the blog and please feel free to promote your research! The winner will receive an Amazon gift certificate worth £50 and a bag full of Mendeley items; competition closes March 8, 2017.

Post-Factual Versus Evidence Based

The world of politics introduced new terms into the lexicon in 2016, including “post-factual”, “post-truth” and “fake news”; the world of science continues to rely on evidence, data and peer reviews. In 2016, politics erupted with statements that denounced “experts”; science depends on expertise to achieve its advances.

Funding Pressures

The Trump Administration has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to freeze all grants. This could be a prelude to more cuts for research in environmental and other sciences. Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s choice to head the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, apparently asked in September 2016 after considering studies done about the Zika virus, “…do we really need government funded research at all”.

What’s Next?

Can science learn to live with the new political environment, or is it time for researchers to march? Will “post factual” politics be compelled to yield to cold, hard data? Will science shift from countries like the United States and Britain to elsewhere? What are your thoughts on what will happen and what will you do? Tell us!

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AHUJA, M. (2017). Scientists planning their own march in Washington. CNN. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jan. 2017].

BELLUZ, J. (2017). Trump’s budget director pick: “Do we really need government-funded research at all”. [Blog] Vox. Available at: [Accessed 26 Jan. 2017].

KASPRAK, A. (2016). FACT CHECK: Trump’s Budget Director Pick Asked “Do We Really Need Government-Funded Research at All?”. [online] Snopes. Available at: [Accessed 26 Jan. 2017].

WAPNER, J. (2017). Trump Freezes Grants, Approves Pipelines and Considers Sharp Budget Cuts At the EPA. Newsweek. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jan. 2017].

24 thoughts on “Mendeley Brainstorm: Science and Politics – Unhappy Together?

  1. Science and economic powers have been clashing for decades. Research needs to be funded, and big companies need evidence that supports their products. Perhaps pharmaceutical companies are the best example of this (

    Science and politics are recenty clashing, yes, but that’s essentially because economic powers have completely eaten politics. If one looks at Trump’s government team, it’s easy to see that the people in charge of politics are the people who used to be in charge of big economic powers. This is incredibly dangerous, as they no longer need to use indirect methods (such as funding)… instead, they can directly censor what they don’t like, and promote fake news that benefit their interests. The United States is arguably the most powerful and influential country in the world, and we are facing a time in which global cooperation is especially needed for a number of issues (global warming, nuclear weapons…), so I find this to be extremely worrying.

    Science will have to fight back, or else it will have to adapt to a world in which only what’s profitable is true.

  2. I think marching just adds power to the politics, puts us at risk, and detracts us from our true scientific purpose. Why not direct our efforts towards working on technologies that are likely to supersede the politics, such as digital autonomous organisations (“DAOs”)? The biggest challenge in this has to be getting funding, as by nature, DAOs are likely to supersede the traditional funding authorities themselves. Who would fund it? Well if it is a political DAO, It has to be the crowd who are likely to benefit, i.e. the public. I guess it could only be crowdfunded. My own recently started self-funded, self-proposed MPhil/PhD project with the Open University, on the possibilities of connecting virtual world users with drones/UAVs might seem like nothing to do with a DAO, but one will certainly be considered as the basis of an appropriate management mechanism. For more on DAOs, start here:

  3. I do think scientists should learn how to get involved in politics and have their words count.
    Everybody has their own views and opinions, but when it comes to politicians denying any scientifical evidence and cutting funds to research in order to boost their political success and their companies, we should step in and make our voice be heard. Environmental change is not an idea, it’s a fact.
    All our lives are built on finding the truth, or the closest thing to the truth we can find, so we can’t just watch when someone builds their power on lies and uses it to quit our researches, so they can say they were right, after all.
    How do we do it? We make our researches more accessible, we make ourselves more relatable, we tear down the wall between academia and the people. We go out and MAKE OUR VOICE BE HEARD.

  4. Recently, the Mineralogical Society of America (MSA), a society whose members are interested in geoscience, has begun to censor contributions to its list server, MSA-Talk. Although no explanations are offered, censorship seems to target contributions that lie on the border between science and politics. For example, contributions that mention the scientists’ march on Washington, or the fact that climate change information has been removed from US government web sites, are not published. Contributions that seek to discuss the censorship itself also do not show up, hence this message to this list server. It is not proposed that MSA-Talk discuss politics, but that allowance is made for discussion of geoscience research that may have been misrepresented by politicians. Philosophically and practically, it is a matter of where to draw the line between subjective and objective knowledge. According to quantum theory, there is no precise line between the two, so it is anyone’s guess. I would prefer that members draw that line for themselves, rather than have it defined by an anonymous censor who may have a conscious or unconscious agenda and their own particular view concerning the nature of reality. The most objective strategy for MSA-Talk, and the shortest path to the truth, is to allow all opinions to be expressed freely. The MSA is saved from embarrassment and lawsuits by the simple statement, “These thoughts do not necessarily represent the opinion of MSA.” We must respect the maturity and wisdom of our members, and need not fear letting go. If you would like to comment, the MSA counselors are meeting in mid-May and will be discussing this situation. They can be reached according to the listing at: .

  5. Fight for science? Fine, but let’s look at the details. Who is fighting, is it the unemployed PhD graduate looking for a job in science or the university professor looking for grant money? And a significant amount of that grant money goes to hiring more low-paid, temporary laboratory scientists, otherwise known as graduate students, i.e. “co-workers”. The job market for scientists is already saturated with those who are seeking employment. Most employment for scientists is found in the private sector and not at the governmental level – except for PhD co-workers (project scientists).

    Protesting for science? Does this mean protesting against the erosion of my rights to professional and intellectual fulfillment ? Or the right of others to add more unemployed scientists to the pool of those who are already seeking work at a level which is commensurate to their educational achievements?

  6. There has always been a certain level of clash between politics and science. If one takes the case to the extreme, there are two possibilities: on the one hand “anarchy” where the rule of law cannot be enforced to safeguard the basic ethics for scientific work and “fragmented segments of science” on the other where the potential for commercializing innovations is lost with no interdisciplinary cooperation in place (1*, 2*). The solution is the “golden midway” where politics lays down the framework for scientific research collaboration. The EU is going in this direction where national states has agreed to support international research community: please let me refer to the European Research Council (ERC):
    This approach will prevail in the future; however, there will be always states that try to enforce their own individual considerations on the top of the common platform. In Finland for eaxmple the privatization and deregulation of the university sector has resulted in situation where universities are increasingly forced out from their comfort zones, potentially amplifying the risk of miscommunication between politics and science (3*).

    1* Eric Bruun & Moshe Givoni (2015). “Sustainable mobility: Six research routes to steer transport policy” Nature, Vol. 523 Issue 7558, Available at:
    2* Karl-Erik Michelsen (2014). “Close link between science and politics raises doubt”, News: Lappeenranta University of Technology, 13 August 2014. Available at:
    3* Välimaa Jussi. et al. (2014). “University Mergers in Finland: Mediating Global Competition”, Wiley Periodicals, Inc., Vol. 2014, Issue 168, Available at:

  7. Science is destined to conflict with politics. The basic reason is that politics is irrational, consisting of manipulation and power, while science is rational, based on seeking the truth. When science serves the goals of government, it becomes a handmaiden of manipulation and power. There are always individuals eager for government grants, self-promotion, and job security who are willing to serve as those smiling, bowing handmaidens, even swirling in seductive clothing to government music if required. For these individuals, even though they call themselves scientists, whatever conflict they might once have felt has long ago been subsumed by self delusions and rationalizations.

    There also are those who pursue the scientific craft objectively who will not come into political conflict–those whose research produces a) things of no interest to the government or b) things that coincidentally promote governmental goals–or at least pose no threat to them. Whenever a threat is perceived, conflict is inevitable.

    Those safest from political conflict pursue esoteric theories that elude political understanding, the scientists so immersed in formulae and non-observables that politicians just grunt when the topic is brought up, which it seldom is. Those most vulnerable are scientists whose craft touches on things that politicians can understand, where research findings conflict with the thought-world or goals or careers of politicians.

    Yet, what I have written is too ideal for the real world. Isn’t the reality that science has sold out to the political establishment, that the pursuit of governmental funding with the dangling carrots of praise and fame having transformed scientists into the very handmaidens the Deep State desires and demands? Not excluded are those who occasionally object to some specific action by signing a statement along with X number of fellow scientists which is printed in some newspaper or filed away in archives, who, feeling self-satisfied after having done their duty to express dissent, go back to slurping at the government’s trough.

  8. Science should be the search for factual evidence. As such, science working for politics is as bad as science working against politics, as it loses its independent status. As a climate skeptic, it was nearly impossible to get research grants to support the search for factual evidence, and even if money was supported, the majority of journals and peer reviewers were from the camp of climate change supporters, which created a huge publication hurdle. But does this mean the science is settled? Only in Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy this could be the case. Science is not a democratic process. One scientist can discover something new which uproots everything we take for granted before, and this new factual evidence is integrated into bigger and better models to explain the world. The moment this fight is connected to politics, it becomes a problem. The novel “the three body problem” describes how the culture revolution denied vehemently the discoveries of physics, going as far as torturing and killing its supporters. Torture and denying of grants and killing and denying of publication are on different levels, but both are expressions of a “Kulturkampf” that tries to solve scientific challenges on the political level. Whenever science and policy are opposing, on the long run I hope that science will win, as what really is has more factual power than what political powers think should be. This is true for progressive as well as conservative politics, at the end, you can’t fool physics … or any other science that is based on its rigorous principles.

  9. Science and politics have been uneasy bed-fellows for many years. Since 1945, research in some branches of the physical sciences has become dependent on funding from governments – alone or in partnership. Inevitably politicians, when asked to foot very hefty bills, will ask questions about the benefits of the research. However, the heavily remain vote by academics in the UK referendum is more nuanced than a simple conflict between intellectual elitism and political populism. There were some special interest factors operating. Many further education institutions feared losing lucrative overseas students. UK academics have also become highly effective in gaining financial support from European Union funds. With Britain outside the EU, they will have to learn new fund-raising skills. The fear of this particular unknown, which they suspect will not be at the top of the UK’s negotiating agenda, was one of the factors leading to many academics opposing Brexit.

  10. The interface of science and politics has two sides: science policy and evidence-based decision-making. Since the creation of the NSF (1950), the U.S. government has recognized that basic research is crucial to magnificent discoveries and advances society as a whole. Government-funded research is not a right; it is up to scientists to advocate for proper research funding. The “conflict” of science policy is common battle for all beneficiaries of the discretionary budget. However, evidence-based decision-making seems abandoned in the current political climate. For scientists who glorify facts above all else, this can be especially hard to understand. Nevertheless, other factors such as values, beliefs and goals weigh heavily during the decision-making process of a non-technical person. People believe the “facts” of individuals with common values. To remedy this situation, scientists need to address the values of their audience with a simple, clear message to restore the public’s trust in science.

    Everything I know about this subject I learned at the AAAS 2017 General Meeting: Serving Society through Science Policy. Incredible meeting! Especially talks from @SciPolGuy @JoshShiode and Alan Leshner.
    NAS reports on science literacy and communication are key.
    Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences.
    Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda

  11. Politics is not an external phenomenon, that someone else is doing or is happening some other place. By virtue of being knowledgeable we are all political in our day to day lives and engage in nothing short of world politics at an individual scale. In this light, academics cannot exist in a politics proof society. In a certain sense knowledge, be it scientific or artistic is constantly trying to define and redefine its positions in juxtaposition to the social context in which it thrives. The apparent conflict perhaps is a necessary friction to enrich our knowledge and consolidate the systemic processes. Organic conflicts such as in question here, have since time immemorial enhanced solidarity which in turn testifies that society takes congnizance of politicization of the conscience and has evolved into an agent and engages in the action interchangeably. Thereby exhibiting traits of knowledge power at an equal footing with that of authoritative power. Thus, knowledge or academics is in fact the healthy opponent in political regimes and their stance is much needed for the continuation of the enlightenment project.

  12. To me the problem is a bit deeper. I think something that must change in science today is the capacity to reach people who is out of science. By “reaching” I mean being able to transmit what science is. Out of the scientific world, people have no idea what science is, and I believe that if everyone would have a scientific point of view (even not being a scientist at all) that would be very beneficial in their life in many senses. However, scientists, at the moment, have not idea about how to transmit science. In fact, to all conferences that I have been so far (not many, but some) around 80% of talks have been so opaque that I have not got more than a glimpse of what that person tries to achieve with his/her research. As a consequence, I come back home with the feeling I have wasted 80% of my time. Now, if scientists are not able to fully transmit, even to the colleges of their own field, their research, then, let’s forget about transmitting our science to the rest of the world, to people who are not familiar with what an atom, or a molecule, is (now thinking in Chemistry, of course).

    In my opinion, the day scientists are capable of transmitting what science is to the rest of the world, we will get the power to reach people, to touch people and, eventually, to move people. That day, probably, we will not really care what politics do or whether they believe in science or not, because 80% of people will do care of science, and that will be far enough.

  13. In an era of Post-truth, evidence-based arguments have to collide with politics. The aim of a politician is power from the people, and hence the message has to be crafted to suit the ear of the masses. On the hand, the scientist aim is to generate knowledge and communicate the information to both the scientific community and the public. There is time inconsistency between these two group. Currently, the politicians are able to offer short term solutions (with long term negative impact) that seem capable of solving the current issues that are facing both domestic and global economy. The scientist use data and s/he must consider long time effect of policy and hence it is possible that the recommendation of the scientist may not concede with the policy agenda of the politician. Hence, the conflict between politics and science.

    The scientist needs to adapt to the new political environment of post-truth and post-factual. To influence the public, s/he must be able to package the evidence-based argument in a way that makes sense to the public and address the current reality. To get funding, the impact of the research on society must be clear to the public and the scientist will have to identify more with the public than the scientific community. At the end, the scientist in this era will lean more to activism than academia.

  14. Typically, we scientists prefer what Stone called ‘the rationality project’1 and bemoan the gap between us and policy-makers, but for politicians considering research evidence is only one facet of the policy-making process and is often hard to understand and evaluate2. Furthermore, politicians often deal with ‘wicked’ problems for which we offer only confusing, conflicting evidence. Perhaps we should look instead at ‘when, why, how, and who finds what type of knowledge sound, timely, and relevant at different stages’3. The scientific enterprise as an institution, though by no means all individual scientists, has become arrogant, expecting an unquestioning acceptance of scientific knowledge and expertise. We must rediscover the humility that should underpin scientific research. This does not prevent us from contributing to political processes, but our academically privileged position gives us no more democratic right to be heard than any other citizen, however flawed we consider their reasoning or motivations.
    1. Stone, D., 1988. Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making 3rd, 2012 ed., New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
    2. Cairney, P., 2016. The Politics of Evidence-Based Policy Making, London UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
    3. Oliver, K., Lorenc, T. & Innvær, S., 2014. New directions in evidence-based policy research: a critical analysis of the literature. Health research policy and systems / BioMed Central, 12(1), p.34. Available at:

  15. Politics is about power through governance, while science is about searching for the truth objectively. When the truth is detrimental to those who have power, then politicians ignore science or actively suppress it.

    The current political landscape in America represents an extreme case of conflict between science and politics because Trump and the Republican party have decided it’s not in their best interests to listen to scientific evidence. This isn’t surprising given that most supporters of the current administration don’t care about scientific evidence either. For example, most Americans that voted for Trump don’t believe in climate change, despite scientific consensus that it exists and is caused by humans. However, science and politics don’t have to be in conflict, and many politicians have leveraged scientific evidence to support their actions, such as Bernie Sanders making action on climate change an important part of his platform.

    In the long run, it’s in the best interests of society to act based on scientific evidence, but scientists need to convince the public and politicians that the information they provide is valuable.

    • Indeed, ignoring science is a shortcut for politicians. However, they have to noticed that they are just reporting urgent actions and when they will realize that they have taken the wrong path, it could be late. It is therefore a priority for the whole population of our planet to stand as a man to denounce such practice that if it lasts longer, will certainly lead us to our loss.
      Perhaps you’ll find this extreme, but I strongly believe that nowadays as others animal species, a serious threat of extinction hangs over humanity, especially on typical citizens like you and me, and in non-developed countries.

  16. Ciencia y política tienen una gran tarea y es coordinarse en equilibrio. El reto de la política es introducir y hacer permeable la ciencia en la sociedad sin que ésta detenga en su evolución, -tan necesaria y presente en prácticamente todas todas las facetas de la vida-, es necesario que la política encuentre la articulación social, las formas sociales necesarias para conseguir esa subsunción pacífica de la ciencia en la sociedad, respetando la evolución, en equilibrio. Es una difícil tarea que ha de revolucionar el mundo los políticos sociólogos etc. tienen esta tarea, todos han de averiguar, debatir y organizar cómo hacer que esos beneficios lleguen en armonía, a toda la humanidad, ese, es el gran reto “la globalización de la ciencia”. Hasta ahora el trabajo proporcionaba unas rentas, hacía de elemento re-distributivo, pero ahora es la propia ciencia la que pone en cuestión éste elemento de equilibrio, el trabajo, tal y como se concibió en la era industrial ya no es necesario o no es capaz de hacer de elemento re-distributivo de la riqueza, además el excedente de mano de obra (oferta) conlleva a su abaratamiento con lo que disminuye la capacidad de acceso al desarrollo científico, quedándose para unas minorías, -esto es una clara barrera a la implantación de la ciencia en la sociedad- ¿Es posible un nuevo orden socio-laboral capaz equilibrar las diferencias económicas, a través de un nuevo orden laboral u otras formas? Dar respuesta a ello es la tarea de políticos y políticas acertadas. En la era de la globalización, es lo que nos va mostrando, distinguiendo a quienes son capaces de buscar el beneficio de todos, en ese equilibrio re-distributivo se aprovecharán las mayorías, quienes que buscan el beneficio de unos pocos se ahogan en su estrechez, generando más diferencias y miseria. La ciencia no se puede permitir ser causa de discriminaciones, no puede utilizarse para la destrucción ni utilización del ser humano, eso la llevaría de una u otra forma a su propia destrucción, sólo si somos capaces de generar condiciones, cauces sociales para el reparto, beneficio y desarrollo de nuevos logros científicos utilizando la formación como mayor y mejor herramienta de inclusión social la ciencia será de motor de la evolución. En la búsqueda de ese equilibrio se necesitan y han de participar científicos, políticos y otros estamentos, es necesaria generosidad de todos para el concierto de un nuevo orden social que beneficie a todos por tanto con participación del mayor espectro social posible. En el nuevo pacto social debemos tener cabida todos, la humanidad no puede ser tal si hay exclusiones y de ésto se han de ocupar los políticos.

  17. In functional differentiated societies politics and science are autonomous spheres. This bears potential for conflict. The same event is evaluated from both perspectives, while both claim to be right. However those conflicts can be structured, due to reciprocal dependence. Science cannot generate all the resources it needs by itself. It therefore depends on political funding. Politics depend on inputs to fill its policies. Science can do this, but how facts are used depends on politics.
    While the legitimacy of science is secured, politicians should have a hard time providing statements, which object science. Therefore current developments indicate a crisis of its legitimacy. While spheres are differentiated, people are not. Scientists are citizens. When science tries to win back its legitimacy of providing and evaluating facts, scientists cannot argue for science as an end in itself, but have to argue as citizens for science as a public good.

  18. In my country, politic is about pleasuring the majority. There was a saying that in many countries, a small number of people is actually maintaining the growth and advance of a country. But politics favor the majority. Basically, it causes science-related jobs to be as cheap as possible, and labor to be as expensive as possible. Doctors are pressured to give free service, while labors have more wage increase.
    One of the obvious example of popularity-seeking political act here (Indonesia) is the night inspection done by governor ZZ to night shift nurses and doctors in surgical ward. He was bringing reporters at 1 AM and yelled at night shift workers napping (which is a requirement for night shift medical workers). Although the lack of active worker might indeed be a mistake, it was a calm ward with no current emergency, and his highness was yelling and kicking a trash can in front of reporters. That sadly got a high approval of people.

  19. The ongoing clash between politics and science can be scrutinized in two ways. If we consider that science shed light on unknown reality, allowing us to illuminate the amazing voyage of discovery, then it logically appears that, each decision take at the political level must rely on facts and/or estimations, thus on science. We can then assume that in the past era or years, the “convenient relationship” between science and politics was due to the fact that the achieving and exercising positions of governance found its basis on verifiable objective observations and rigorous reasoning.
    On the other hand, ignoring science and just depending on the game of politics i.e. just telling people what they want to hear in order to be elected is a trickery that scientists have to take notice of and fight to get themselves heard and make politicians adopt righteous measures, especially in this age where the survival of our planet is threaten, hence the rising discomfort between science and politics.
    Though it is not an excuse, it is also true that the power of money has drastically influenced people’s mind, some scientists included, which is abject. Fortunately, there are still strong and virtuous people, looking for the general interest, fighting to put science where it would never have left, being at the service of politics, which is an assurance of a world walking towards a bright future.

  20. Politics is the art of governing. But governing is not only a power exerted by the State or by “politicians”. Every human is political, as it lives in a society with explicit and implicit rules. Every human organizes its life in certain ways according to the beliefs learned or thought.

    Pre-modern days were ruled by religious beliefs. Today, what we consider a rational “truth”, is given by a method with certain protocols: the scientific method. The political-economy field and the scientific rationality are basing today’s world.

    Directly or indirectly, political decisions have oriented scientific research. That’s why Giordano Bruno was burned, that’s why XIX century scientifics tried to prove superiority of men over women, superiority of a “black race” over a “white race”. Science has always been crossed by politics, and in the contemporary world, scientific truth is the legitimated truth, which is required to govern.

    To march or not to march will depend on the expectations we have as individuals and as a society. I don’t consider useful claiming an ethical superiority about the decision. I think it’s better to analize which path will the scientific society choose.

  21. I see absolutely no conflict between politics and science, and after having worked as a scientist in the USA for many years and in the EU as well I have no problem with Brexit or with Trump. Trump is looking out for hardworking law abiding Americans of all social classes as first priority, and does not stand for corruption, moral turpitude, or logical fallacy detracting from truth, health, and prosperity, which is what science is all about. The US Constitution is designed to protect individual freedom and responsibility, and the USA is where freedom from socialism/globalism/occupation/tyranny/inequality/economic depression allow every individual the potential to change their social class through hard work and a positive attitude. We do not stand for lies and treachery, we do not implement false quotas, double standards, coddling, or discrimination based on biological attributes beyond one’s control. We promote those who contribute to society by working arduously for the benefit of their fellow man, with no hidden agenda. The idea that scientists would go march for funding is absurd and the product of an underemployed mind somewhere that has turned against itself. It does not surprise me that CNN is promoting this. You want something in the United States of America, you go and earn it because you are not owed it by your government. Yes people have freedom of speech and assembly because this is not a fascist country, but no one becomes successful by begging and complaining in the streets here.

  22. Perhaps the question “Are science and politics destined to clash?” is a distraction from the acknowledgement that science and politics have always interacted, and science has always been politicized irrespective of the involvement of scientists (think of Galileo, eugenics, and climate change, to name a few). Nelson and Vucetich (2009) argue that “scientists, by virtue of being citizens first and scientists second, have a responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities… and to advocate in a justified and transparent manner.” The current assault on evidence-based decision-making is one that challenges us as citizens inasmuch as it challenges us as scientists, and therefore it is our right—and our duty—to speak out. The question is then distilled to when, why, and how scientists advocate, and whether that advocacy is issue-specific or for the valorization of science as a discipline and the recognition of its contributions to social progress.

  23. Thank you for all the intelligent and well thought out replies; we’ll select a winner as soon as possible.

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