Nine scientists are entering the US congress next year, from engineers and health professionals to an energy businessman and a computer programmer. Six of them are women, including a new senator for Nevada.
In another pick-up for House Democrats, Kim Schrier was declared the winner Friday after a tight race with the incumbent Dino Rossi in Washington’s 8th Congressional District.
She became the ninth scientist to win election to Congress in 2018, and tweeted about it:
I am so excited to join the wave of scientists headed to Congress this year.
Because we know that science shouldn’t be politicized, and evidence isn’t something you can choose to believe in or not. https://t.co/cJV4zjG1O4
— Dr. Kim Schrier (@DrKimSchrier) November 10, 2018
When the 116th Congress heads to Washington in January, there will be a record number of women in the ranks — at least 123, including the first Muslim women, the first Somali-American, and the first Native American women.
There will be more scientists too.
Nine new science-credentialed candidates were elected: eight Democrats and one Republican.
The Democratic candidates all ran successful campaigns with the support of a nonprofit political action committee called 314 Action, which started in 2016 and is dedicated to recruiting, training, and funding scientists and healthcare workers who want to run for political office.
“They bring a real wealth of experience that’s really lacking in Congress today,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, president of 314 Action. “There are more reality show people in Congress, including our president, than there are chemists and physicists.”
Naughton said that when it comes to political influence in Washington, scientists have typically stood in the sidelines. Not so much anymore.
“Traditionally among the scientific community the attitude has been science is above politics and shouldn’t involved in politics,” she said. “Clearly that is not working.”
Since taking office President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, questioned a UN report warning of the dire consequences of climate change and supported the EPA’s rollback on carbon pollution standards.
Naughton accused Trump and his administration of waging a “war on facts and truth” and said she’s seen a recent surge in the number of scientists — “political outsiders,” she called them — running for office to speak out on issues such as climate change and healthcare.
But the wins for science don’t stop at these fresh faces.
Now that Democrats have gained a majority in the House, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will flip too.
Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who has chaired the committee and vehemently denies man-made climate change, is retiring.
The next chair of that committee will likely be Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who has served in the House since 1993 and former chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital in Texas.
That would mark the first time in 28 years that a person with an actual science degree has held that position.
Think of that: An actual scientist in charge of the science committee in Congress. What an idea!
Dr. Rush Holt, a physicist who represented New Jersey in congress and is now CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the newcomers will likely never use their specific expertise but will contribute a much-needed way of thinking.
“What is missing in Congress, and what they are better able to provide, is the science perspective. There are so many issues that have the science embedded in them,” Holt said.
Illinois Democrat representative Bill Foster, one the few current lawmakers who studied and practiced science, said there is an urgent need for lawmakers with a science background.
“There’s hardly any issue that we touch that doesn’t have a technological edge to it, whether you’re talking about the feasibility of an electronic border wall or almost anything to do with military these days … or really the impact on the future of work that you’ll see from the increase in the capability of software,” said Foster, a particle physicist before he was elected to Congress in 2008.
The current Congress boasts just a few scientists — among them a physicist, a microbiologist, and a chemist, all in the House.
Among the 535 voting members are also eight engineers (7 in the House; 1 in the Senate) and several lawmakers who come from the medical field, such as physicians, dentists and psychologists.