Congress needs more scientists and engineers

By JONATHAN PATTERSON | December 7, 2017

s many people on this campus and throughout the country already know, Congress is currently in the process of passing a new tax bill. Chances are if you’re a Republican or right-leaning you think it’s good, and if you’re a Democrat or left-leaning, you don’t.

But if you’re willing to set aside your likely partisan position on the bill, I think we can agree that the new burdens this bill puts on graduate students in particular will adversely affect their work, and in the case of STEM students, their scientific research.

Needless to say, many students and universities (including our own) are not pleased with these potential policy shifts. In defense of Congress however, they may not be intentionally trying to hamper research or anger students, the new tax bill may just be a result of Congress’ ignorance.

It’s possible that Congress simply does not realize the consequences its actions will have on students and their research because Congress as a whole, does not understand science.

Of the 541 members of the 115th U.S. Congress, there are only eight engineers, one physicist, one microbiologist and one chemist. The only other remotely scientific backgrounds split among the remaining 530 members are held by those who previously worked in a healthcare profession.

Congress doesn’t understand science because Congress is composed of so few scientists and engineers.

In a body that should ideally represent the entire country, over 40 percent of its members are lawyers. The most popular pre-Congressional professions among the members of this current Congress are law, public service/politics and business.

The negative effect our future tax law will have on science and engineering students and their research should not come as a surprise, if anything, it should almost be expected.

Congress has had a long and unenlightened track record when it comes to science in the past, and the provisions of the new tax bill that affect students are just a small part of that.

After all, Senator Jim Inhofe, the man who so absurdly tried to disprove decades of climate research with a snowball, just finished his second stint as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at the beginning of this year.

With complex fields of science and technology like advanced AI increasingly joining climate change in spilling over into the domain of law and public policy, having a Congress equipped with the knowledge to properly deal with such issues is in the public’s best interest.

This is why we need more scientists and engineers to leave their labs and universities and run for public office, including U.S. Congress.

Frankly, it is unrealistic to expect a group of lawyers, businessmen and women, and career politicians to create sound policy on matters they have no understanding of.

It is also ineffective for scientists and engineers to remain confined on the sidelines, hoping for the best and critiquing poorly conceived policy.

With new technologies constantly on the horizon, science and engineering will only become more embedded into the lives of many Americans and thus an increasingly more complex policy issue.

As a result of this trend, it would appear that the future of science in politics only seems to be growing, meaning the time is now for more scientists and engineers to get involved in the political process.

Science is going to be at the forefront of many issues that this Congress, and all those that follow, will face. In the future, it is imperative that we have more Congressmen and women that understand these complex scientific issues and are able to inform policies that will affect the public at large, else, our future will be marked with one bad law after the next.

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