Is there science in the House? Part II

In my last post, I gave a quick rundown of the members of Congress who hold advanced degrees, highlighting those in science. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you–particularly in the current political climate–how critically important it is for our community that math and science have many allies in Congress.

Senator Chris Coons (DE) gave this year’s William D. Carey Lecture at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Forum on Science and Technology Policy . Senator Coons gave a magnificent and truly rousing presentation on Defending Science and Catalyzing Progress: A Bipartisan Formula for the Future. The Carey lecturers are chosen for their commitment to “articulating public policy issues engendered by the application of science and technology.” And, Senator Gary Peters (MI) recently wrote on the importance of scientific research. Senator Peters, along with Senator Gardner (CO), sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for a substantial increase in federal funding for science, research, and development at the National Science Foundation. Their request is consistent with the $8 billion NSF appropriation that the AMS is supporting for FY2018.

There are two recent pieces written by members of Congress that I want to draw your attention to in particular. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Representative Jerry McNerney (CA 9) are members that all AMS members should know about and–if this is the sort of thing you do–follow on social media. Many AMS members have felt under duress at the least and some have been directly affected by actions the Trump administration has taken. Senator Whitehouse and Representative McNerney are outspoken about the threats to science, and each has asked us to act, one as individuals, and one in concert with our university homes.

Rhode Island is a state high on the radar of mathematicians. Not only are AMS headquarters there, but one of the seven NSF-funded mathematical sciences research institutes is based at Brown University. The Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) brings mathematicians from all over the world to Rhode Island, for short workshops or semester-long programs.

The state’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse recently published his view of actions our universities should take to battle current threats to the scientific enterprise. He starts by pointing out that American universities afford a home to much of this enterprise; a point not understood by all! And, with prescience, he articulates the role he feels universities should take in combatting the “science denial machinery” so much a part of our current Administration. His opinions on our Unprecedented and Unprincipled Adversary appeared in Inside Higher Ed during the period between the November election and the January inauguration of President Trump. Senator Whitehouse challenges universities to step up and take action.

And, as mentioned in the preceding blog post, there is, in fact, a Ph.D. mathematician serving in Congress. Representative Jerry McNerney has served in Congress for a decade. He recently expressed his views on The truth about the War on Science in The Hill (a newspaper and website that aim to offer non-partisan and objective comprehensive coverage of the capitol). He comments on the trend that has “emerged that dismisses science as irrelevant or false.” Representative McNerney asks us to step up as individuals, to challenge the “Trump administration’s crusade against science.”

This is, of course, not the first time these members important to our community have spoken up about science. Indeed, they are fully committed to scientific inquiry broadly and policy decisions based on scientific evidence and knowledge. Representative McNerney is an honored and active member of the math community–he has spoken on the House floor about twin primes, and he has attended the Joint Mathematics Meetings (most recently in 2014, and we hope he attends again in 2019, when it will be a short trip for him to make to Baltimore).

These are not the only Congressional members who speak out and write on behalf of science but when a mathematician in Congress and a Senator from our headquarters’ state write, we should pay attention!

About Karen Saxe

Since January 1, 2017, Karen Saxe is Director of the Washington Office of the AMS which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who impact science funding. Before joining the AMS, Karen was DeWitt Wallace Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over many years she has contributed 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-AAAS Science & Technology Policy 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, skiing, and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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