Is there science in the House? Part I

In November of 2016, not only did we elect a new president, but many House and Senate seats were filled, some with incumbents, some with so-called Freshman.

I always wonder about congressional members’ training and interests in science, so I started asking the question “How many congressional members have post-secondary degrees in a scientific field?” Well, this question is not as well-formed as one might hope. Am I asking for bachelor’s degrees? Does a medical degree count? What about engineering degrees? You get the point. So, I asked a new question, which was easier to answer (though still had some ambiguities to work through). The new question: “How many congressional members have a doctorate degree of any type, and in what fields?”

An important question would be: why would one care? My first answer is that I just find it plain interesting. Perhaps a better answer revolves around the abilities of lawmakers to pass effective legislation. Along these lines, Craig Volden (University of Virginia), Jonathan Wai (Duke University), and Alan E. Wiseman (Vanderbilt University) show, in a forthcoming paper, that Representatives with degrees from more elite institutions are more effective at lawmaking, especially in producing the most substantive and significant laws.

As it turns out, there are 22 members of the House of Representatives of this 115th Congress who hold a Ph.D., Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree. They are:

Alma Adams (NC-12) – Art Education & Multicultural Education
Dave Brat (VA-7) – Economics
​Judy Chu (CA-27) – Clinical Psychology
Tom Cole (OK-4) – 19th Century British History
Henry Cuellar (TX-28) – Government
Danny Davis (IL-7) – Public Administration
Bill Foster (IL-11) – Physics
Virginia Foxx (NC-5) – Curriculum & Teaching/Higher Ed (Ed.D.)
Mike Gallagher (WI-8) – International Relations
Jody Hice (GA-10) – Ministry
Robin Kelly (IL-2) – Political Science
Derek Kilmer (WA-6) – Comparative Social Policy (DPhil, Oxford–Marshall Scholar)
Dan Lipinski (IL-3) – Political Science
David Loebsack (IA-2) – Political Science
Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) – Psychology
Jerry McNerney (CA-9) – Mathematics
Tim Murphy (PA-18) – Psychology
David Price (NC-4) – Political Science
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) – Education
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-9) – Justice Studies
Dina Titus (NV-1) – Political Science
Robert Wittman (VA-1) – Public Policy & Administration

​Senate-side, there are only two holders of Ph.Ds.: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth has a Ph.D. in Human Services, and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has a Ph.D. in American History.

Notably, there is one mathematician, and one physicist in Congress right now. Representative Bill Foster (IL-11) was

a high-energy physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). Bill was a member of the team that discovered the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter. He also led the teams that designed and built several scientific facilities and detectors still in use today, including the Recycler Ring, the latest of Fermilab’s giant particle accelerators. When Bill first ran for Congress, his campaign was endorsed by 31 Nobel Prize Winners.[1]

Representative Jerry McNerney (CA-9) has a Ph.D. in mathematics, and worked for several years at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. He is a very good friend to the math community, and has made appearances at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. Indeed,

McNerney returned from the 2014 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, for example, jazzed about headway mathematicians had made in settling a long-open question. Less than a month later, on February 11, McNerney took to the microphone in the House chamber. “Madam Speaker,” he said. “I would like to talk about twin prime numbers.”[2]

Of course, science has many supporters in Congress, and some of our allies have strong scientific backgrounds. For example, Representative Louise Slaughter (NY-5) has a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and a Master of Science degree in Public Health. And, a great supporter of science and STEM education on the Senate side is Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who has an undergraduate degree in mathematics.






About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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