Another Scientist in Congress!

By Sean Carroll | March 8, 2008 10:01 pm

billfoster_20080123_14_25_32_61-156-110.jpgPhysicist Bill Foster has been running against dairy magnate and perpetual candidate Jim Oberweis in a special election in Illinois to replace retiring Republican representative Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House. The election was today, and with 96% of precincts reporting, it’s been called for Foster, 52% to 48%. This is great news for scientists and for Democrats, and awesome news for those of us who are both. Oberweis’s signature issue is anti-immigrant xenophobia, and a Democratic victory in this reliably Republican district bodes very well for the national picture this fall.

fermilab-recycler-ring.PNG We’ve mentioned Bill’s campaign here before, and think he will be a great Representative. He is not just any old particle physicist, but quite an accomplished one, having been a co-inventor of Fermilab’s antiproton Recycler Ring. Once you’ve mastered antiprotons, the Washington political process should be child’s play. Congratulations!

The bad news is: because this was a special election to replace Hastert, they will have to do the whole thing over again in November. Here’s hoping that Foster can repeat his great showing.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics
  • Elliot


    And he is also going to be an Obama superdelegate.

    Now we just need to get Scott Harper elected in the IL 13th and send Judy Biggert home permanently.

    Would be nice for the next Democratic president to have a working majority in congress including 60+ in the Senate so we can undo the wreckage of the Bush/Cheney regime.


  • Ellipsis

    Oh, that makes me so happy! Congratulations, Bill!!!! Looking forward to your bringing some science to Congress!

  • Brian T

    Rock on!! I heard about this on NPR the other day and dared not hope he would win! Whoo hoo!

  • Thras

    Woot. More Mexicans! Keep those wages down. If you’re not for it, you’re a xenophobe.

    But a physicist in Congress is a good thing.

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  • Andy James

    Yay, There is still hope for Illinois yet. The district was considered to be staunch Republican, so this is a great victory indeed!

  • Mike Saelim

    A native of the area (but not in his district), I think the most important thing that came out of today is Oberweis’s defeat. The people of Illinois need to keep him out of power for as long as possible.

    That being said, congrats Foster! Not even Oberweis’s “oh my god he’s a democrat!” commercials could take you down. Do some good things before November and you should be able to take down whoever the other side musters up.

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  • Neil B.

    Yes, this is terrific. Many of my friends at “J-Lab” are distraught about physics funding and the diversion of resources to Iraq and Moon/Mars landings etc. Bill Foster will bring an important voice to Congress. It needs more scientists and other intellectuals, fewer lawyers/lobbyists/hacks/ etc.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    This might be a reversal of my observation this decade that bad brains go into politics. At least for a while we have seen some serious mental zombies or neocon-robots and bible wackos get into office. This might be the beginning of a reversal of this dismal trend, and maybe some reason will again be voiced in Washington DC.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

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  • Simplicio

    @Mike: Just FYI, “whoever the other side musters up” will be Oberweis again. He’s already won the primary to run for the seat in the ’08 election.

  • Scott Aaronson

    Wish I could’ve voted for him.

  • Elliot


    You could move to IL and vote for him again in November 😉


  • J.F. Moore

    “Another scientist”? Are there any current ones in congress? I feel foolish for not knowing….

    @Elliot: sorry to say, Scott Harper is not as formidable as Bill Foster, and he has a steeper uphill climb. Biggert knows what she has to do to get 60% of the votes every two years, and brings her A game every time. I think she’s terrible but that’s the way I see it. It would take someone really phenomenal to win her seat.

  • Elliot

    J. F.

    Well since I live in Judy’s district, we will be doing what we can to send her home.

    I don’t think she got 60% last time and that was against a pro-life democrat who got nobody that excited.


  • J.F. Moore

    20 points is a long way to climb. Good luck though.

    No one knows… any other scientist in congress? I read through a list and didn’t see any. Well, there were several who had a religious affiliation of “Christian Scientist”.

    If not, then this means Bill Foster will be the ONLY scientist in congress. I think this might hit on why funding is so inconsistent.

  • simplicio

    @ J.F. I can think of only one other scientist (not including medical doctors and astronauts), Rush Holt from NY has a PhD in physics.

    Actually, glancing at Wiki, I also see a Chemist, Nancy Boyda from Kansas. So that’s three, unless anyone knows anymore.

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  • RWA

    Vern Ehlers of Michigan was the first physicist in Congress, and he had a very distinguished career as a researcher at Berkeley and instructor at Calvin College (Gerry Gabrilese was one of his grad students) before entering politics. and Robert Briscoe of Maryland is a physiologist. John E. Sununu is an engineer (not the same as a scientist, but if you’re going to count Jerry McInerey, you should count him as well) , Barbara Cubin worked as a chemist (if people count Boyda as one, they should count her as well), and Brian Gibbons, now governor of Nevada, is a geologist. Also, Lamar S Smith started out as a physics major before switching to law as an undergrad. On the state level, Mike Fortner of the Illinois House is, like Foster, a Fermilab physicist, and worked with him in finding the top quark (although they were on opposite teams-Fortner was with D0, and Foster was with CDF).

    But wait a minute-they’re all Republicans! That makes them un-persons in the eyes of this and other so-called science blogs shilling for the Kos wing of the Democratic party.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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