In a reception co-hosted by APS and AAAS, friends, colleagues and a broad swath of the scientific policy community gathered to bid farewell to physicist-turned Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) on Nov. 19. But, in an unexpected turn of events, the farewell also became a celebration; just the day before, AAAS announced that Rep. Holt would be taking the helm of its organization as CEO following the departure of Alan Leshner early next year.
Only the second physicist to be elected to Congress, Holt distinguished himself as a staunch supporter of many causes, but in particular, of science. And the packed room reflected that support. Members of Congress, his colleagues throughout his eight terms in the House, also came by to wish him well, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Science has no better friend… because he has been a relentless, persistent, dissatisfied advocate for science and science funding, and he knows of what he speaks,” Pelosi said. Fellow physicist and member of Congress Bill Foster (D-IL) opined that, with Rep. Holt’s departure from Congress, his workload would no doubt increase, underscoring the need for scientists in Congress: “You can hardly name an issue that does not have a technological edge to it. And there is no substitute to having someone in the cloakroom and say ‘Hey, what’s the deal with this?’”
Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) commented on the increasing politicization of and number of attacks on science in Congress “It amazes me at the contempt that some have for science, and it’s important for us to elect people like Rush to Congress, who will actually speak out and defend the fact that it’s OK to be smart [and] it’s OK to rely on smart people to give you the best guidance on how to proceed on certain things.”
Referring to the floor debate and ultimate passage of the Secret Science Reform Act (H.R. 4012) that day, Holt underscored McGovern’s thoughts, noting that “[McGovern] never thought, nor did I think, that we would have to defend the very idea of science on the floor…I figured there would be arguments about misunderstandings of science… but the idea that empirically based, peer-reviewed work is the best path to reliable knowledge, shouldn’t be questioned. But it was even today.”
While Congress will be down a physicist at the end of the year, leaving Rep. Foster to carry the science torch, the science community gets to hang on to Holt. And, given the environment in Congress, he is likely to be even more effective in his new post at AAAS.