Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The physics caucus

The New York times has an article about the three physicists who are currently congressional representatives: Republican Vern Ehlers and Democrats Rush Holt and Bill Foster. They make some great points about intellectual curiosity and problem solving, such as this:

He [Holt] recalled his exasperation when anthrax spores were discovered in the Capitol in 2001 and colleagues came to him and said, “You are a scientist, you must know about anthrax,” a subject ordinarily missing from the physics curriculum.

“The difference,” he said, “is we would be perfectly happy to pick up a copy of The New England Journal of Medicine and read about the etiology of anthrax.”

“In fact, we basically did that,” Mr. Ehlers said.

“We know more than our colleagues,” Mr. Holt said, “but not more than they could know.”

And more generally about the misconceptions of scope that affect the publics view of science, such as this:
Among other things, they said, a science adviser should be someone who will remind the next administration what science can and cannot do.

For example, Mr. Ehlers said, it is irksome to encounter people who ignore the scientific consensus that human activity contributes to global warming yet count on science to produce new sources of energy magically. “They sort of reject our reasoning,” he said. “But they will come back and say, ‘Science will find a way.’ ”

I wonder, though, aside from these three are there any other physical scientists in congress? Chemists? Geologists? Most of the other scientifically trained representatives that the article mentions are health-related scientists. Not that there’s anything wrong with keeping people well, it’s just a different field than discovering the laws that govern the inorganic universe.

Anyway, the article is worth a read.


djm said...

Also pertinent: how many scientists are in the Australian government?

Anonymous said...

Well, in Federal parliament:

Dennis Jensen (Lib MP) - 'PhD in materials engineering on ceramics' and worked as research scientist at CSIRO, Defence &c. Bit of a contrast to the Congressmen, since he's made a name for himself as AGW skeptic.

Rachel Siewert (Greens Sen) looks like she worked as a scientist at WA Dep. Agriculture on soils and salinity after uni

Jim Turnour (ALP MP) seems to be an agronomist.

Annette Hurley (ALP Sen) worked in pathology at first.

That's pretty much it...

John Forrest (Nats MP) is a civil engineer

Steve Fielding (FF Sen) started out as an engineer

And since we are at the LLL:

Nigel Scullion (C Libs Sen) - no tertiary degree, but "worked many years in the mining industry in a range of roles including Field Assistant, Geophysical Observer and Manager for drilling and exploration programs."

There's a handful more who have qualifications like BSc (Hons) but never seem to have worked in science or postgrad study. The vast majority with degrees have them in law, economics, or business.

OilIsMastery said...

Interesting you say "inorganic universe" even though geologists seem to have a bizarre fetish for believing everything is organic.

Chuck said...

Given that less than 0.1% of the Earth is carbon, and most of that is in the core, I don't see how your comment makes any sense.

Organic geochemistry is a field which is only pursued due to the self interest by the carbon-based life forms in the upper few kilometers of the Earth in other creatures like themselves.

Those of us who are constructed entirely from silicates don't really give a toss.