The Constitution doesn’t spell out many requirements to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. You have to be at least 25 years old, a resident of the state you wish to represent, and you must have been a U.S. citizen for at least 7 years (and, of course, you have to get yourself elected). Once you become a representative, however, there doesn’t seem to be any particular skill set or knowledge base required to get yourself assigned to the committees that do much of the real work, particularly the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The lack of any sort of scientific knowledge displayed by some members of this committee is absolutely horrifying.
The most recent committee member to show his ass is Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-GA), who was recently videotaped speaking at a church in his district.
How can we expect someone to make informed decisions about science policy when he thinks that the Earth is only “about 9,000 years old” and that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory are all “lies straight from the pit of Hell”? If you refuse to acknowledge the fundamental nature of our universe, how can you be expected to make any sort of decision about funding space exploration or anything else NASA does? Evolution is settled; your side is wrong; get over it. And embryology?! For pete’s sake, the man went to medical school! Does he not understand that people grow from embryos? I am confused. He’s on the Energy and Environment subcommittee, but since his version of Earth’s history doesn’t go back nearly far enough to account for the formation of fossil fuels, how can he possibly make any sort of informed decision about how to manage dwindling resources? Not surprisingly, he also thinks global warming is a “hoax.” I’m siding with Bill Nye: “[Broun] is, by any measure, unqualified to make decisions about science, space, and technology.”
Todd Akin (R-MO) is another committee member who is famously ignorant of some basic scientific facts. He first caught the public eye this summer when he declared that pregnancy from rape “is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” More recently he declared that Planned Parenthood gives abortions to women who aren’t even pregnant. Yeah, that’s someone I trust to guide responsible science policy.
While these two committee members have made the biggest recent gaffes, they’re far from the only ones with problematic views. Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) thinks that scientists get paid $5000 every time they release a study that says climate change is real. Committee Vice-Chair Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) thinks global warming is caused by solar flares. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) once asked a witness speaking to the Energy and Environment subcommittee if we could cut CO2 emissions by clear-cutting the rain forests. Sandy Adams (R-FL) introduced a bill to ban the government from setting up websites to teach kids about energy-efficiency. Distressingly, Today’s Engineer’s February 2011 look at the 112th Congress’s science committee’s new makeup found only six of 36 members with an ostensible science background, and that incudes Broun and Akin!! (Broun’s undergrad degree is in chemistry, while Akin studied engineering management.) A few others are doctors and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the ranking Democrat, is the first nurse in Congress.
So what can we do to ensure that science is better represented in the future? Vote for pro-science candidates (though in some places that can be difficult; Broun is currently running unopposed). Put public pressure on the party machines that decide on committee assignments. (Change.org has a petition to remove Broun from the science committee and several to remove Akin, though realistically I doubt they’ll make much of a difference.) Fight for the future of science education so that the next generation of politicians might not hold so many ridiculous beliefs. And if all else fails…
Congress’s Science Committee Doesn’t Get Science (Motherboard)