Democrat Congressman Rush Holt has a job waiting for him when he leaves the House in January. He has accepted the position of CEO of American Association for the Advancement of Science. It’s an international nonprofit dating to the 19th Century that makes scientific education and outreach two of its major goals.
Ironically, Holt said, he will likely end up spending more time in Washington, D.C., on the new gig than he did as a member of Congress.
“They want to see science continue to make progress,” Holt said. “That means we should have a good public understanding of science. That science advances in a way that improves human welfare.”
Holt who has represented the 12th District since 1999 did not seek reelection this year. Before entering politics, he served as assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and has his own patent for a solar energy device.
Holt acknowledges that scientists like himself are pretty rare in the halls of Congress. So why the scarcity of lab coat types in Congress?
“It’s probably a very long answer,” Holt said. “But for generations, maybe for centuries, we’ve told scientists they should operate in an ivory tower. Somehow their science will be cleaner and more pure and more reliable if they won’t get soiled by the political process. I was raised to find no incompatibility between science and politics.”
Holt, originally from West Virginia, grew up around politics. At the age of 29, his father became the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate. His mother was the first woman Secretary of State of West Virginia.
Holt’s early interest in science led to a B.A. in physics from Carlton College in Minnesota, followed by a Master’s and Ph.D. at New York University. Science and politics combined during a stint working as arms control expert at the U.S. State Department, monitoring the nuclear programs of countries including Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union.
Holt said he suspects the disconnect between public policy and science also has something to do with the way science is taught in this country. Students get the idea that if they’re not aspiring scientists, the subject is of no interest to them. Which Holt finds unfortunate, because most issues of public policy involve science in some capacity — everything from health to energy to the environment.
In recent debates such as global warming and the teaching of intelligent design in schools, Holt said, some commentators have argued against the validity of the scientific method itself.
“You should wish that your congressional representative is willing to consider and pay attention to everything about our culture and our economy and our society,” Holt said. “But when it comes to science, they generally stay clear.”
Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, an Assemblywoman from the 15th District, will be sworn in January 3 into Congress to represent Holt’s old seat.
The 12th Congressional District in New Jersey includes the following towns:
Middlesex County (12 municipalities)
East Brunswick Township
North Brunswick Township
Old Bridge Township (part; also in 6th)
South Brunswick Township
Somerset County (4 municipalities)
Union County (3 municipalities)
Watch Congressman Rush Holt’s farewell speech to Congress below
This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog