Scientists as elected officials

How important is it for scientists to participate in the policy process as elected officials?  There are several PhD trained scientists currently serving in Congress, but one will be retiring after this year.  Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (D-Mich) has served eight and a half terms in the House of Representatives.  Rep. Ehlers earned his PhD in nuclear physics from UC Berkeley in 1960.  He then taught physics and performed research for 22 years before going into politics full time.

While in office, Rep. Ehlers has supported increased funding for science, technology, engineering, and math and helped write a new statement on US science policy in 1998.  In a recent interview in Chemical & Engineering News, Rep. Ehlers discussed the importance of connecting with non-scientists, saying “If you really want to reach the average person, you have to learn to speak about the material and be able to explain it in the terms that the public will understand, and that’s not something that happens very easily.”

As scientists, I think it is important that we educate the public about science and why it is important.  But can this be accomplished as a outside adviser?  Or is it more effective as a policy maker?


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