Science in America

A recent editorial in the Scientific American pointed out an interesting difference between many world governments and that of the United States. The writer, Marlene DiCristina, editor in chief at the periodical, was visiting Moscow, and she was asked how many scientists there were in the American government.

The answer is quite illuminating. There is one physicist, one chemist, one microbiologist, six engineers and about twenty representatives with medical training. That is of a total of 435 members of the House of Representatives. Whether that is representative of the population as a whole is neither here nor there.

We live in an increasingly competitive world, one in which the winners will be those countries that are able to leverage their skills to obtain an advantage over the competition. For large multinational corporations, that is not a problem – they can buy the skills they need wherever they happen to exist. If Beijing has experienced programmers or engineers that the company needs, it is not necessary to have the work done in the United States, it can be done in Beijing.

For those companies, there is no need to push Congress to educate the people, they know that they can obtain those skills elsewhere. It is to their advantage to push those members of Congress that will advance their agenda, which involves lower costs, and lower taxes. The representatives that they support will be those members that can get them lower taxes, lower costs and subsidized operations.

The oil companies in particular prefer representatives that will allow them to expand oil drilling operations regardless of the impact on the environment, or on the people. These members are more likely to be those that have no understanding of the challenges facing the country and the world in terms of global warming, destruction of the environment, or technological advancement.

Members of the current Congress are more likely than not to have very little technical experience in the sciences, in mathematics, or in computer technology. They are thus unprepared to tackle the important choices that the country has to face in the future.

Global warming is absolutely neutral in relation to partisan politics. Man-made climate change is going to continue to worsen unless Congress and governments around the world take some sort of remedial action quickly. Members of Congress just have no idea what the ramifications are for our planet if we continue to impact our environment.

When a born again evangelical fundamentalist is on the committee for Scientific Research, or perhaps even in control of that committee, we know that science in this country is in deep trouble. There is nothing that biblical texts have to teach us about our planet, life on that planet, or our place in this universe.

What we need is a Congress that is scientifically literate, a committee for Science and Technology that actually does have a solid background in the sciences. It is only when Congress understands the full ramifications of falling behind in the technological race that the United States can retain its position as world leader not only in technology, but militarily and socially.

The lack of education that is becoming ever more apparent in the US Congress is frightening in its implications for the balance of power, for the wealth of the country, for the rapidly deteriorating environment. While the US population grows ever less educated, so does the Congress. As a country we need to increase the level of education necessary to become a member of Congress.

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