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House withdraws vote on 'science laureate' amid conservative objections

Symbolic Setback for Science
September 20, 2013

The U.S. House of Representatives was set to vote last week on a bill that would create the position of "science laureate" -- a national title to honor an accomplished scientist and promote science, akin to the U.S. poet laureate. But backlash from a conservative group led lawmakers to pull the proposal from the floor.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California and Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, would have allowed the president to appoint up to three science laureates who would serve for one or two years, as decided by the president, and allowed for their reappointment.  

"At a time when American children need a stronger background in scientific education, as our society becomes ever more technical, and when we need more Americans to appreciate the critical importance of scientific advancement to our success and survival in the century, America needs a spokesperson for science," Lofgren and Smith said in a letter to their colleagues.

But concerns from Larry Hart, director of governmental relations at the American Conservative Union, about the bill’s journey through Congress and its contents delayed the voting process. Hart sent a letter to legislators last Monday, and the bill was then recommitted to the House Science Committee. Panel members are working on amendments to the bill this fall, a committee aide said.

Hart said he was upset that the bill reached the House floor on the suspension list, which bars amendments to and debate on the bill.

“There was no hearing, no vote, no possibility of discussing the bill or even changing a word of it,” Hart said.

Hart had more than procedural objections to the legislation. He said he could not understand why the House would add to the number of appointments made by President Obama after members gave speeches disagreeing with some of his previous appointments. In a letter sent to House lawmakers, Hart wrote that Obama would choose a laureate who “will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases.”

“It’s obvious that if something like this is made a political appointment it becomes an opportunity to advance a political cause,” Hart said. 

The bill, which was not a partisan proposal, should never have been derailed, said Joanne Carney, director of the office of government relations at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“The purpose was to have scientists who were good communicators engage with the public about the importance of science in a very general way,” Carney said. “We need to do more to engage with the public and make them aware about why science is important, whether it’s to study science or consider science as career, but also to recognize science’s importance to our country.”

 

 

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