Physicist elected to Congress calls for more scientists-statesmen


Bill Foster, member-elect of the U.S. House of Representatives, wants more scientists in Congress who can bring to bear an analytical mind-set to lawmaking.

Only a handful of physicists have reached the halls of Congress. Bill Foster, a particle physicist and businessman just elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives from Illinois’s newly drawn 11th district, wants this situation to change. The Harvard graduate knows he is one of few in any technical field to hold national office. Foster plans to use his time in the public spotlight to serve as an advocate for bringing more of his peers to Washington. 

Although Foster left a career in the laboratory to pursue politics, science is never far from his mind. He says he is continually thinking of new ways to inject the rigor of science into the often messy give and take that is the essence of politics.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

Why did you decide to leave science and run for U.S. Congress?
I often say that I inherited the family’s recessive gene for adult-onset political activism. My father was actually a chemist. He got a degree in chemistry from Stanford. He came back from the war unhappy that his work was being used to kill people.

When he came back from the war he decided he wanted to spend part of his life in service to his fellow man. He actually wrote a lot of the enforcement language behind the Civil Rights Act. Reading his papers after he passed away a few years ago was one of the things that triggered my thinking.

Written By: Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato
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  1. In a counrty where 45% of the population believes the earth is 6000 years old and can’t figure out why they lag behind in innovation I wish him the best of luck. I would suggest that a year from now we all send him an email to re-enforce and motivate him. He will need it.

  2. Where is the “45%” statistic coming from?  Please, don’t come back with ” a survey” or “a poll” because those are never performed correctly.  Also, who says we are lagging behind in innovation?  Because our KIDS don’t do well in math and science doesn’t mean our adults don’t make fine engineers.  

    Also, the word is “atheist” not “athiest.”  I suggest that, a year from now, we all send you an email to check your spelling progress.

  3. Let’s not go crazy slapping each other on the back, here.  Many physicists hold strange and wild beliefs.  I work with (no shit) a short earth physicist!!!!  This person also is a creationist!!!!  So, before we get crazy supporting someone just because they are able to perform the calculations necessary to attain a chemistry or physics degree, let’s step back and see what the man is about and examine his track record at some point in the future.

    I wish him luck and hope he does, in fact, lead using scientific reason as the guide for his decision making.  I hold out hope that he can be a trend setter and years from now we can say that he was the first of many.  I will say this:  the populous does not trust smart people. If a seven foot tall person walked into a room and said “I am tall” people nod and agree.  If a person with a 155 IQ walks into a room and says “I am smart”, people hate.

    The general population, full of average intellects, absolutely mistrusts the smart.

  4. The statistic come from this very site. You will find it under web news, 22 October 2012. And I am incorrect. The percentage is actually 46.

  5. This is something I argue with a friend over all the time.  As a rule, I don’t think the skill set that goes into being a good scientist is the same skill set that makes a good politician. The only great statesmen I can think of who were even close to being scientists were some of the US founding fathers, especially Franklin and Jefferson. But even there they were both more very gifted amateurs then real scientists. To be a scientist you need to own a problem, to drill down on it and not give up even when people think you are off the mark. To be a good statesman you need to be able to compromise. To look at a problem and not think what is the best solution but what is a solution I can make work for all the parties involved. 

  6. I agree to some extent.  With a degree in Applied Physics, I’ve found that constant use of the logic required has modified my BS detector to a fine level.  I’m too old to go into politics but I can smell a charlatan from a mile off.  Let’s give this guy our support and see what happens.  Couldn’t be worse than the current lot.

  7.   Please, don’t come back with ” a survey” or “a poll” because those are never performed correctly. 

    Do you mean just on this particular issue (if so, why?) or anything at all (in which case why do methods such as Nate Silver’s so successfully predict elections)? Seriously, what’s wrong with Gallup’s (or anyone else’s) polls on creationism? Also, these polls show the level has been pretty much unchanged, year after year, in the US for almost a century. So, if you’re right, either the actual number is continually zigzagging for no apparent reason, or these surveys are continually out by about the same amount; care to explain either phenomenon? The simplest explanation is that surveys are correct, which basic statistical theorems say they really ought to be.

  8. OtherReligion
     Because our KIDS don’t do well in math and science doesn’t mean our adults don’t make fine engineers. 

    Now that’s one thing I have to see to believe! 
    Fine engineers who can’t do maths! 
    (Remind me not to cross any of their bridges or use any of their machinery.)

  9. This is all well and fine.  But it does not guarantee that you end up with what’s asked for.  Consider this from a previous post about Rep. Paul Broun.

    “Rep. Paul Broun, who serves on the House Science Committee, told a
    church-sponsored banquet in his home state of Georgia that the theories
    of evolution and the big bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell.”
    Broun has long been known as one of the most conservative members of
    Congress, and an outspoken conservative Christian. He wanted to declare
    2010 “the year of the Bible,” points out NBC News. Still, the comments from the medical doctor who also has a degree in chemistry are getting lots of attention after the Bridge Project, a progressive political watchdog group, began distributing video of the remarks. “

    This guy not only serves, but is head of the House Science Committee. !!!

  10. OtherReligion
    Where else do you imagine statistical information comes from, a big statistically improbable sky daddy? Polls are like every other piece of information everywhere else in the world you have to check the source but your rant seems to indicate that you want a source but that none are good enough for you? That’s not a reasoned/reasonable/intelligent position. It’s a fairly common statistic on this web site, where you surprised? How do you rebut if you can’t use information compiled by someone else?

    You’re almost spot on with the US and innovation, again I’m surprised everyone isn’t aware of it! But it’s not correct to assume that engineers pop out of nowhere after a limited christian evangelical education. Many of the innovators pop out of the airports, much of Americas success in innovation and technology is on the back of well educated immigrants, the kind the US likes. 

    OK they like the low wage 3rd world Mexican labour too!

    As far as spelling goes I often make mistakes and am grateful for anyone that helps me without being a cock.

  11.  To be a good statesman you need to be able to compromise. To look at a problem and not think what is the best solution but what is a solution I can make work for all the parties involved.  


      If this from Bill’s website is correct 

      He also managed several multimillion dollar accelerator construction and research projects, and led teams of engineers and physicists to help build the latest round of Fermilab’s giant particle accelerators.

    then he knows something about politics.  There aren’t many scientists who aren’t going to end up making compromises about how money is spent or staff are hired.  


  12. Jimmy Carter killed the Soviet Empire, and Reagan jumped in to wave his arms around as the BeaЯ fell to the floor. It’s stolen glory. He started a war of attrition with a dieing empire, as cities and people physically rotted from poverty, but the only thing he won with a poker-face was the credit. Reagan was a statesman, and a master of it.  He possessed the skill-set, the ability to bullshit people. It’s a common skill in gurus and lawyers. A government of lawyers is irrational, illogical, and distastefully feudalistic. Often these lawyers lead as gurus; humble political proxies to The Law of Heaven. Then there are business men, those benefited by the services of lawyers. Why are seats of power filled with anyone but those with relevant educations?

    The tasks of secular government relate to the natural world, thus can be understood with science. How many economists, sociologists, systems theorists, or even philosophers are there in (US) government? Scientists are venerated on money in many places, and playwrights become presidents. Does that tell us anything about the rationality of those societies? Is there an inherent fear in giving scientists political power? As rationalists, neither our talents nor our interests are served by a pack of lawyers. Ours is the way of the Enlightenment, the first worldview effective in abolishing disease, and they call us immoral without god. Is that why there are no scientists, that atheists are unelectable? Fuck that. Let’s have a Technate, and free the Dago Six.

  13. Where do you source your material?

    … embroiled in acrimonious lawsuits and fierce quarrels will fellow scientists…

    Citations please.

     Last I heard he was involved in a slanging match with Sam Harris…

    You’ve lost the plot me auld China…where did you hear that RD and SH are involved in a slanging match?

     (or at least his crony PZ Myers was).

    Even if true, what has that got to do with RD? Are you just on this site to troll?…because of the two comments you’ve made so far, that’s all you’ve done so far. Any chance ya might have something constructive to add to the discourse?

  14.  I wouldn’t expect a troll to become so researched in their mistaken notions. This may just be a case of fractal wrongness.

    “last I heard…” where would one hear that? What kind of source would report that? What kind of mind would imagine that?

    Could it be, we are honored with a rhetorician who’s goal is not lulz but to foment discord in the forums? They could be from anywhere… The Fellowship, MI5, the Vatican, follow the money!!!

  15. What better to demonstrate intellectual integrity than a resume in the sciences?

  16.   Any chance ya might have something constructive to add to the discourse?

    I doubt it their other contribution was a suggestion Richard is a hypocrite based on some memory or other:

    Send in the Billy Goats Gruff I think.


  17. @rdfrs-0cf9c827c8dfe8a93ef7e652b1e02b91:disqus  How did you create the backwards R?

    @rdfrs-95ceb9de058faa856fa2061e57ca8da9:disqus Many of us make errors typing here, but when it’s your username you’re stuck with it. You might ask a moderator to see if your username could have the spelling corrected.

    @rdfrs-5d95f710ec92af20339501c8a34175b6:disqus  crankypants!

  18. Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I support this guy and am very glad he is in the Congress. I was just talking more generally about what it takes to be a good politician vs what it takes to be a good scientist. IMO, they aren’t the same skills. In some ways I would argue that anyone who manages a huge project like that isn’t really doing science, he’s being a manager of a huge project that has to do with science but he’s dealing with issues like egos, budgets, turf wars, schedules, etc. which I agree are the kind of skills it takes to be a good politician. 

  19. The first thing I’d like to point out is that many theories suggest that there are many types of intelligence, IQ being only one type, and arguably emotional intelligence would be very important for any type of leadership role.

    Also, not all scientists are created equal. Just talking about physics, you have the experimental and theoretical, both of which require different personal characteristics to be successful at.  Then you have the psychologists and social sciences, anthropologists, biologists, neuroscientists, and my own field of study, cognitive science. All of whom can provide unique and expert insight into societies challenges. I may be bias, but a discipline devoted to the study of decision making processes, cognitive errors in thinking, critical thinking skills, problem solving strategies, and the characteristic differences between novices and experts, would surely be well needed in politics.

    A good political decision making team would be created by including a broad range of experts, and the point here I think is that scientists are undervalued and under-represented.

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