It's common for prominent scientists or scientist/politicians (i.e. Bill Foster) to decry the lack of scientists in the US Congress. This lamentation is understandable, given the increasing dependence of our society on science-based issues (energy policy, climate change, reproductive rights, healthcare, STEM education, information freedom, telecommunications, biomedical research, pollution, and environmental regulation, to name a few).
The prospective leadership of the House Science Committee highlights this need.
This month, the House Republican Steering Committee will decide which of the members of the newly elected 113th Congress will lead each of the House’s committees, including the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, come January.
There are three contenders for the chairman position: Lamar Smith (R-TX), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The Committee has jurisdiction over several agencies chemists may be familiar with, including but not limited to NSF, NIST, NASA, the USGS, the DoE, EPA, NOAA, and ATSDR, and the power of the committee corresponds to large millions of dollars in funding. This is the same committee that included (until his recent defeat) Todd Akin (R-MO) and still includes just-reelected Paul Broun (R-GA), an M.D. (with, embarrassingly enough, a B.S. in chemistry) who this year denounced "evolution and embryology and the big bang theory" as "lies straight from the pit of Hell" (read more of what he said if you want to depress yourself a bit).
Current vice chair Jim Sensenbrenner, having served as the chair previously (1997-2001) isn’t likely to get the nomination. This will probably come as a relief to scientists, in light of Sensenbrenner’s public condemnation of the theory of anthropogenic climate change as “scientific fascism” and an “international conspiracy” and role in disbanding of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Policy. Lamar Smith has perhaps the most training in science of the three—he aspired to be a scientist at an early age but was deterred by a college introductory physics class. Dana Rohrabacher, an aggressively prominent climate change skeptic, stated in 2012: “my analysis is that in the global warming debate, [skeptics] won”. A paragraph later, he proclaimed “I love science.”
All three contenders are lawyers by training. The evaluation and use of scientific findings and allocation of funds should be – as scientists are taught but lawyers are loathe to accept – approached in as non-biased a way as possible. But the top leaders in the position to bolster or cripple our nation’s scientific abilities may not have objectivity at heart.
What to do? If we had more scientists or science-educated people go into politics the situation would probably improve.
But then again, Paul Broun has a chemistry degree.