There’s a new political action committee in town, 314 PAC, that aims to “recruit a new generation of leaders with scientific and technical education and experience to candidacy for elected office.” In the current congress there are two physicists, six engineers, and one microbiologist. It’s fair to ask if we really need scientists and engineers in congress. After all congress can call on an array of experts to testify about any issue imaginable. This discounts the value of having advocates on capitol hill that not only value science, but have actually applied it.
The difficulty can be seen in recent campaign by Chairman Lamar Smith of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to prove that portions of the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget are being wasted on frivolous projects. He wants the NSF to judge research based on its ability to further the national interest. It’s important that scientists have a voice on capitol hill and that that voice be more persistent and widely heard than even a panel of experts witnesses would ever be. A stout defense of peer review is needing and that is why it is vital to increase the number of scientists in congress.
As much as I laud the goal of 314 PAC though, I take issue with their recruitment plans. The committee’s goal is to find Democratic candidates. There’s a popular idea that the Republican Party is the “anti-science” party, and while some Republican officials actions (anti-evolution or anti-climate change statements, investigations in to the National Science Foundation) give credence to this it’s important to not dismiss any party as anti-science.
Science shouldn’t be partisan. And a political action committee that aims to bring more science and technical professionals into politics shouldn’t dismiss one of the parties out of hand because that politicizes science as surely as any anti-science public official does. It will only encourage and inflame people like Chairman Lamar Smith to investigate more. Instead, science and technology professionals of all political persuasions must be encouraged to run. Otherwise the Republican party is being abandoned to individuals that should be troubling to all.