Do Politicians Understand the Science?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 1, 2010 10:09 am

Ever since joining an listserv before the 2008 election, I’ve been receiving emails from all sorts of folks across levels of government. Last night a note came from a candidate running for Senate in a state I’ve never resided in. Since the topic being discussed was the oil spill, I read on. I agreed with much of the sentiment–that the devastation in the Gulf is sad, that we need  to protect the marine realm, and that better policies should be instituted to make sure it never happens again. But then I looked for substance. I wanted to read his positions on the critical issues at hand related to oil, energy, national security, and so on. “We need an energy policy” it said. That was all. There was a pretty photo of him looking at the ocean too.

It’s not that I discourage good intentions, but real leaders in government need to show us how they have thought through the complexities on subjects like energy. On reading that email, my take home was that this person didn’t have much to bring to the table. Candidacy usually involves a lot of lip service to be elected, and if that occurs, much time in office must be spent maintaining the position for the next cycle. An email that says a candidate wants “an energy policy” tells me nothing. I need to find out how he plans to work (as a freshman Senator no less) to achieve that end and what his ideas for what better policies would sound like.

Lately we’ve been discussing the growing rift between science and the American public. Perhaps the best place to begin bridging the divide is to get more of those with scientific expertise working in political positions of influence. For this to happen, policy has to become a more acceptable trajectory for young people in science, and less of a so-called “alternate career choice” *cringe*.

It’s not just about running for office either. I would love to see more Congress people with science advisors given the most pressing issues are related to climate, oceans, energy, and human health.  Many of those gambling with the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants at the moment do not have the expertise to understand the ramifications of their decisions. Some are influenced by special interest groups. We can and must do better.

I often meet students who tell me they went into science to make a significant contribution to the world. By getting involved in the policy making process, they might very well play the most important role of all. So to those reading this in advisee positions, to teachers and high school guidance counselors, to parents and mentors: Encourage those young people who understand what’s at stake and have the capacity to come up with real solutions–to our growing energy problem, a warming planet, and the rest of the challenges ahead–to consider politics.

MORE ABOUT: 2012, candidates, election

Comments (47)

  1. Bethany

    I agree 100% that experts in real science need to be a part of the policy process. I’ve been working on getting into science policy, but it’s difficult. Fellowships seem to be the only way to transition from a PhD in Physics to policy making in DC. The Fellowships are competitive and getting jobs in science policy is difficult since lawyers seem to have a distrust for scientists. Encouraging more scientists to get involved in policy is one thing, actually finding a job is another. Advice on how to find science policy jobs would be extremely helpful. I would appreciate an article on where to get a science policy job. I’ve been looking and the options seem pretty lean.

  2. GM

    I am sure it feels nice to say “That politician had nothing of substance to say, it is not enough to just state that we need an energy policy”

    The problem is that based on what I have read on this blog, your writings on the subject don’t go much further either.

    Any adequate policy in our situation MUST include reducing the I quantity in the I=PAT equation by at least an order of magnitude. This means end of growth and degrowth. I have yet to see you discuss growth here

  3. Neuro-conservative

    But she has great pictures of animals kissing!

  4. Jess

    Why do you leave the random off topic comments like #3 up? I don’t have your patience for anonymous troublemakers.

    This is a really important topic and Bethany makes a good point that it can be a difficult arena to get into. I agree 100% that we need more scientists in office and in politics. We might achieve policies that are more effective and pragmatic.

  5. Eric the Leaf

    Because they are authors interested in policy on the Hill, several years ago I strongly recommended to Chirs and Sheril to interview Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD). Here is one of the most conservative members of congress who happens to be a scientist and farmer teaming up with democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico to form the Peak Oil Caucus (they may be the only members!). Bartlett has been giving speeches on energy to an empty House for years (they are incredibly good speeches and can be accessed on his website).

    Nobody has given a rat’s ass.

    What a great opportunity for journalists interested in energy issues to profile this man and provide him with the publicity he deserves. He is getting up there in years.

    But no. This does not inspire confidence in forming energy policy.

  6. Fellowships seem to be the only way to transition from a PhD in Physics to policy making in DC. The Fellowships are competitive and getting jobs in science policy is difficult since lawyers seem to have a distrust for scientists. Encouraging more scientists to get involved in policy is one thing, actually finding a job is another. Advice on how to find science policy jobs would be extremely helpful.

    The Fellowships are the most well advertised, but there are many ways to get a position on the Hill or at an agency. The way many staffers get started is by calling up the office of a representative they would like to work with and volunteering. From there, you can move into a legislative staff position, on to correspondent and assistant.

    You can also look for internships with groups that work on the Hill on the issues that matter most to you. For example, given my marine science background, I would speak to those at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute or the Ocean Conservancy. That way, you can get to know what’s coming up in legislation and work on briefing those in power about what’s at stake and what they can do.

    There are so many ways to get more involved, but sometimes you have to be creative about finding or creating the position you want. But if you have the expertise, you should be able to find a way to use your skills in policy–locally or nationally.

  7. David

    Chris says:

    I would love to see more Congress people with science advisors given the most pressing issues are related to climate, oceans, energy, and human health.

    Two points:

    These advisers are their. The Congress people are not interested in their opinions. They don’t have any money to give them.

    No, you don’t want to see more science advisors. You want the Congress to take up *your* pet issues and enact support for them. Nothing wrong with that, but be honest and up front about it.

  8. David

    Sorry for the typo. Their -> there.

  9. Chris says:

    I would love to see more Congress people with science advisors given the most pressing issues are related to climate, oceans, energy, and human health.

    No I said that.

  10. David

    Bethany,

    In other words, you think that there should be professional policy scientists to go with the professional politicians. What’s wrong with the real scientists that we already have? What do you want, another class of scientists that don’t do science and just make policy? Wouldn’t that make them politicians? When would they do science?

  11. SEA (Scientists and Engineers for America) put together a nifty list of all congress members by degree. There is no deficit of scientists on this list.

  12. SEA (Scientists and Engineers for America) put together a nifty list of all congress members by degree. There is no deficit of scientists on this list.

  13. ponderingfool

    The Fellowships are the most well advertised, but there are many ways to get a position on the Hill or at an agency. The way many staffers get started is by calling up the office of a representative they would like to work with and volunteering. From there, you can move into a legislative staff position, on to correspondent and assistant.
    ********************************************
    Volunteering as in not getting paid? Doesn’t that favor those with family wealth & resources?

  14. kirk

    Fmr Sen./Dr. Frist and Sen./Dr. Coburn are pretty sciency but don’t have much truthiness. Dr. Rand Paul would likely “outsource” NASA and any other publicly funded agency. These men are political animals whether they are good at science or not.

  15. WB

    I have to agree with Bethany, while there are a few fellowships, there are VERY few and the path to science policy is too unpaved for many to consider it a viable career choice. I ended up in law school in an attempt to forge my own path to science policy, but I do wish there was some guidance out there, I get a lot of blank stares when I try to explain my goals to career services. Groups like Scientists and Engineers for America are off to a good start. But there has to be a better way than going broke to volunteer on some politician’s campaign and then trying to force them to take your advice as a scientist.

  16. Lindsay

    @ Sheril #6:

    To second ponderingfool, volunteering? Seriously? This must be a big part of the problem. I’m interested in policy, sure, but I’m not some college graduate with a B.A. in communication looking to make a difference. The whole Ph.D. ordeal has to be worth something, say an actual position with like benefits and a salary and stuff? If politicians and policy-makers really value scientists so little that they expect us to come grovelling for any position after getting a graduate degree, it’s no wonder scientists aren’t involved in policy. I hate to sound pretentious, but Jesus Christ, I’m already working my ass off for nothing to get the Ph.D.!

    I would be moving across the country to volunteer, and that isn’t really an option for someone who has spent the last 5 years of a Ph.D. program getting a near poverty-level stipend. That would be a pretty massive career risk, not to mention all the debt you would rack up in the process. You’d be safer sticking with academia!

  17. As I wrote earlier, there are several options, and internships are one of them. These may be ideal for those just finishing a BS as a good way to test the waters before making the transition to a graduate program.

  18. David

    Help me out here. I am trying to follow along but I don’t understand. In what bizarre universe is it that someone thinks that fresh out of school, with the ink on their diploma still wet, think that they are qualified to advise governmental policy? Barely out of school, with no real background outside the constrained scope of their area of study and they really think that they are going to get to run the world?

    You know what that crinkly new sheepskin qualifies you for? An entry level position. A M.S. or Ph.D. will help get a better entry level position but you are still at the *beginning* of your career, not the height of it.

    Get a job in your field. Participate in whatever political slant that agrees with your personal philosophy and be prepared to work your way up the ranks. Get involved with the people that are setting the platform and start putting all that education to work convincing them to put your ideas into the platform. Join in the action groups that support causes that you feel are important. Get involved in their policy decisions as well.

    Sorry, there are no real shortcuts unless you happen to be particularly well connected. You don’t get to start out at the top. You are not going to go and do some short term internship and be “discovered” and have the world fall at your feet and hang on your every word. It takes a lot of time, work, and involvement. If you don’t like the way the world works, get busy and change it. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight.

  19. JMW

    Not to put a wet towel on anyone’s idealism, but I’m endlessly cynical about politicians, for two reasons which honesty forces me to admit I have no concrete proof for.

    The first is that, because of the way our political system operates, people go into politics full of idealism. But politics is the art of the possible, and making something possible requires compromise and deal-making. By the time a politician reaches a point of being able to have large-scale influence, they’ve made so many deals and compromises that they have no principle left anymore.

    The second is that, because of the way our political system operates, it rewards those who run election campaigns better than those who administer public policy. The evolutionary pressure on politicians is to succeed by winning elections, not by governing. And unfortunately, if a politician offers a concrete proposal on anything, that makes them a target for their opponents.

    So the process of evolution, as applied to politics, rewards politicians for being vague, open-ended, deal-making pragmatists who will do anything to get elected, and once elected, avoid doing anything for fear of inciting a wave of anger in the electorate that will prevent their getting elected next time.

    To counter-act this, we need to re-educate the electorate in critical thinking, so that they can evaluate and expose the semantically null content of most politicians, and learn to avoid voting for such hot-air merchants.

  20. GM

    19. David Says:
    July 2nd, 2010 at 12:36 am
    Help me out here. I am trying to follow along but I don’t understand. In what bizarre universe is it that someone thinks that fresh out of school, with the ink on their diploma still wet, think that they are qualified to advise governmental policy? Barely out of school, with no real background outside the constrained scope of their area of study and they really think that they are going to get to run the world?

    In theory you are right. But given the current sociopolitical reality, by the time you become “qualified” according to your criteria, you will have become a part of the status quo and you will simply help perpetuate it. It’s not as if the people who are have been in office so far have been doing a good job. A fresh perspective on things may be a better idea.

    The problem is that the young people who would aspire to become politicians in general tend not to bring that fresh perspective that I am talking about with them….

  21. GM

    20. JMW Says:
    The first is that, because of the way our political system operates, people go into politics full of idealism.

    Do they? I always though they do it for the fame and power. Things that maximize one’s inclusive fitness….

    To counter-act this, we need to re-educate the electorate in critical thinking, so that they can evaluate and expose the semantically null content of most politicians, and learn to avoid voting for such hot-air merchants.

    True. But if the electorate was educated, the politicians would be too. Most people have this view of government as something abstract that exists separate from the people, in an “us against them” perspective. It is not at all like this. Yes, in some countries there is an elite class that self-reproduces itself, in others this is less the case, but it is almost always the case that the attitudes and practices of the people who are on top reflect very well those of the population in general. Yes, politicians are dishonest, corrupt, and not doing anything of actual meaning. But guess what – if you put a random person from the street in office, he would be doing exactly the same thing. Because chances are he is already doing them on a smaller scale in whatever he happens to be doing. The reason people complain about what people in power are doing is not so much that the people in power are doing bad things that the people not in power are not doing on a smaller scale, it is that the people in power are in power and those that are not would like to be in their place. Otherwise the differences between the two are much smaller than most people think.

  22. ponderingfool

    As I wrote earlier, there are several options, and internships are one of them. These may be ideal for those just finishing a BS as a good way to test the waters before making the transition to a graduate program.
    *****************************************
    It ideal for those with the socio-economic background that enables working for free. For the rest of us, it sucks. Volunteering/interning as a way to get your name into the door is not a viable option for many. It is a de facto way of enriching those from more privileged backgrounds as advisors in our government.

    Why are we not seriously talking about the mass consumption by the rich in this country when are talking about reducing our national carbon footprint?

    Why like Dr. Isis mentioned do we focus on the white upper middle class college educated (but not necessarily with a science education) parents who don’t vaccinate and not those without the resources to have their children vaccinated (and who the former endanger by their denialism)?

  23. sunnygrrl

    Ironically, upon obtaining my MS degree, I had trouble finding a job and applied to some minimally paying science/policy internships in DC. The competition was so stiff for these positions (paying less than $1,000 a month) that I was easily passed over in favor of candidates with more education or experience. I eventually obtained a job working for the federal government, which pays better and allows me to do the same work.

  24. Deep Thought

    A few thoughts;

    Internships, though often under or unpaid, really serve more as a gateway to further paying careers, especially within the government. Having one under your belt is really seen almost as a vetting process to gauge interest and dedication to shaping policy. Yes it can be financially strapping for a time, but they tend to pay off down the line. The internships are generally not terribly hard to get and on the Hill and throughout the other halls of government there are essentially secondary lists of open jobs available to people who are already employed or interning for the government. People in the hiring offices are often very receptive to people with the letters MA or PhD after their name, epically if applying to committees or departments somehow relevant to your field of science.

    David (# 19) said: “Barely out of school, with no real background outside the constrained scope of their area of study and they really think that they are going to get to run the world?”

    No you don’t get to immediately run the world, like any field one has to work hard and earn respect and credibility. But it does happen, and over time one can find themselves having an appreciable influence on policy.

    Secondly, if one is in school and knows they want to make a difference, or even just want to get a better grip on how the political system works, it would be a wise idea to take at least one political science classes. Yes college is a terribly busy time, and just finishing up one’s major in their own field is a huge amount of work, and different colleges have different policies when it comes to enrolling in classes outside of one’s discipline, however whenever practical it is best to try at least to get a basic politics class under your belt. It would be beneficial for one’s own edification, and looks good on resumes if applying for positions outside of research.

    There is a lot of cynicism about getting involved in the political process, and justifiably so, however the political system is only going to get worse if people of sound mind and good conscience avoid it all together.

  25. Guy

    The trouble with the political world is that it’s full of politicians. Politicians are geared towards winning elections, but they often lack the knowledge required to make a difference when it comes to important issues. Each elected official should be assigned a science adviser for dealing with issues like climate change and energy policy.

  26. gillt

    I’m a scientist who’s lived in DC for the past six years. I’ve been to a number of Fellowship panels. Most require you have a PhD. The competition is stiff, and taking a year off from research is a huge risk to your career as a scientist. I think Sheril is being too glib here. Sure, you can serve as a Hill staffer intern for the summer–thousands of them infest our fair city every summer–but that is not sound advice for someone with a PhD or even an MS. I’ve also been to panels for science writing and the same thing applies. Nobody cares what you think unless you have a PhD. It doesn’t matter what field it’s in either, just so long as you have one.

    Now who enters a PhD program because they want to be a writer or work as a policy-maker? When asked how they got their positions, all the panelists at all these events tell the same story: they lost interest in their research, but luckily after earning a PhD, and sort of fell into their current line of work. It’s dismaying for one because they’re using their PhD in title only and it’s not anything like practical career advice. It’s actually bad advice, and many admit as much.

  27. David

    GM:

    It’s not as if the people who are have been in office so far have been doing a good job. A fresh perspective on things may be a better idea.

    Yes, there are a lot of real problems with the system. Many things need to be fixed. But with all it’s faults, the world has yet to come up with a better system. It really is not as cynical as it sounds because the nature of working in a diverse society is that there will always have to be compromises. You don’t always get the best solution. You do generally get the most workable one. The “youthful idealism” doesn’t have the maturity to see the shades of gray and the patience that moving an impossibly huge bureaucracy needs. You want efficiency? All that gets you is a dictator. It used to grate on me as well. It is not a matter of just perpetuating the status quo. A lot of the status quo has developed for good reason. A lot of the decisions that our government makes are not what I would choose. That’s ok, a lot of the decisions I would make would be equally disliked by a lot of people.

    We get a lot of “interesting scientific perspectives” in our government. On *BOTH* sides of the aisle. So far Guam hasn’t capsized. We don’t have Sharia law (or some other conservative fundamentalist version.) Research still gets funded. We have the cleanest and cheapest drinking water drinking water in the world. Some of the highest rates of vaccination and disease prevention provided for free (if you don’t mind going down to the public health clinics). We can have open discussions about government without getting jailed.

    While not perfect, the status quo is better than what is available in the rest of the world.

  28. GM

    Basically you’re saying that because things are worse elsewhere, it is OK that they are bad where you are. Quite a defeatist attitude…

  29. David

    No, I am just pointing out that the sky is not falling.

    We enjoy a better quality of life than anywhere else in the world in any other time. Should we continually strive to make things better? Of course we should. Is the whole system broken and we should stage some kind of revolt? That is just silly.

    Is it all perfect? Nope, people are still people, with all their flaws. Realizing that things take time is not defeat. Thinking that you can just wave your magic wand and make everything all better at once is just juvenile wishful thinking.

    You really should get out more and see what it is like elsewhere to realize how good things are. Hopefully, you will never have to find out first hand how bad the alternative is. I have faith that if my house were on fire, the fire department would come. I don’t have to worry about the police robbing me. I don’t have to worry about shooting in the streets. I can go to the polls and vote for things that I think should change or stay the same. I don’t have to worry that “they” won’t come for me in the night.

    Nope, not defeated. Just grown up. I felt exactly the same way as you before I was mature enough to understand. Eventually you will come to understand that there is no Utopia. The world is not and probably never will be a perfect place. We just do as best we can in the time that we have and keep working toward that unattainable goal.

  30. GM

    We enjoy a better quality of life than anywhere else in the world in any other time.

    Not for long.

    And last time I checked plenty of countries in Western Europe are doing much better in terms of quality of life.

  31. David

    Well, I suggest you actually go there and see for yourself for more than a whirlwind tour group. Try Paris when the garbage is stacked up on the streets and you can’t go anywhere because of the strikes. Try the UK where people are having to leave the country for healthcare because of the waiting periods. Sink your life savings into Greece. See the quality of life you can afford with a 30% VAT on everything you buy on top of income and property taxes. The list goes on.

    There is no Utopia. Never was. Never will be.

    One more thing, I am not going to banter one liners. Either contribute to the discussion in a qualitative way or just ignore my posts and pretend that they are not there.

  32. GM

    Well, those are subjects on which there has been much discussion already so I don’t see the necessity to restate everything again and again.

    First, I am not talking about Greece, France and the UK, I am talking about the Scandinavian countries, and Germany, places with much better fiscal discipline and working state structures. It is simply absurd to claim the US with the present state of its health care and social safety nets provides a better quality of life compared to those countries.

    Second, apparently you are not aware that the US in a very similar situation to Greece, i.e. essentially bankrupt. So is the UK. Which will catch up with it at some point in the future.

    Third, and judging by the content of your posts, you are apparently completely unaware of this, most likely due to suffering from severe case of free market ideology brainwashing, the combined effects of Peak Oil, general ecosystem collapse and climate change (i.e. global ecological overshoot) will destroy whatever good quality of life you think you’re enjoying right now. And it will do it much sooner and in a much uglier way than you can imagine.

    I was not definitely not talking about utopias, I was talking about facing reality.

  33. David

    Short of Germany, you are talking about countries where the entire country’s population is less than a major city in the rest of the world. Also, they are paying for a lot of that social infrastructure with “Peak Oil” as well. Did you forget about all that North Sea drilling stuff or did you think that the money to pay for all that stuff just magically appeared or from a bull market on fish oil, timber, and reindeer milk? It sure wasn’t from SAAB or Volvo sales.

    Now, Germany has some good points, I will grant you that. They have high quality engineering. They also did a good job of reunification. They did a good job cleaning up some of the horrible things that they did with their environment a bit earlier than other places. They also got a lot of economic benefit from elsewhere during the cold war. How long it will continue to be a good place is debatable. Most of what they have set up has only been around for 65 years or so. Many of the broadest changes have only been in place for the last 20 years. Time will tell.

    You seem to be focused in on the talking points of the news. They have universal health care and a and a “social safety net” in Cuba under Castro, too. I wouldn’t want to live there either. There is more to quality of life than that.

    As far as suffering from a “free market ideology brainwashing, combined effects of Peak Oil and general ecosystem collapse and climate change” my response is: Huh? That is not even the topic of the conversation nor salient to anything that I had said. The particular examples I presented were specifically the government services and protections afforded to people here in the United States. Last time I looked fire and police protection and public health clinics were not involved in “free market ideology” nor “Peak Oil” or even ecosystem collapse. Neither is public works delivering clean drinking water.

    The specific point that I made was that the system in place is under pretty constant improvement over the years. Yes, there have been some setbacks and gains but it has been an evolutionary process and is not going to be changed by someone dropping into Washington and making a slick presentation or instant bond during an internship and “save the world”.

    Also, believe me, I have a real good imagination of how ugly things can get. I am 5 miles away from a country that is plagued with corruption and violence and bullets hitting buildings on our side of the river. They are just a hair trigger away from open revolt. More people killed this last year than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined (total for the entire war). Road bombs, convoys of thugs, and killing police and government officials.

  34. GM

    That means you live somewhere close to the Mexican border I guess….

    What you didn’t understand, or at least you didn’t respond to, is that response a crisis like the global ecological overshoot is something the system is uniquely incapable of doing. Which is why I criticize it so much. Not that another system would do better as the way the system works is really a product of the way people think, and this is what has to change, but that’s exactly my point when I say that the more time people spend making their way through the ranks, the more they will be thinking like everyone else and no radical change can come out of that…

  35. David

    GM:

    The problem is that not enough of the people that want the changes are taking the system head on. We have an abysmal percentage of people that actually vote. They sit back and complain that the system is broken and we are doomed. They expect it to just happen spontaneously. If they go and talk to the politicians, their icy hearts will melt and see the error of their ways.

    It will never happen that way. The only way that it will happen is if enough people either get enough of a voting block to activate the politicians’ sense of self preservation or to create their own party that supports their views and recruit people vote with them. Just sitting around wishing and complaining is not sufficient.

    So far the whole strategy has been to stare at the system from the outside and to condescend to the “uneducated masses” and complain about the “unresponsive and ignorant” politicians. I guess that they don’t feel strongly enough it to actually jump in and really do something about it.

  36. GM

    How about abandoning representative democracy altogether and opting for reality-based decision making instead (as opposed to the popularity contests that the current system inevitably leads to)?

  37. David

    That is all well and good. Who do you trust with the keys to the kingdom? One person’s reality based decision is another person’s tyrant. A similar system was in place before. People designated to make the decisions for the common good. We tried that for a few thousand years.

    Ghengis Khan, Stalin, Queen Victoria, Napoleon Bonaparte, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin. The history books are full of them.

    What recipe do you have to make it work better this time around? I am all ears.

  38. GM

    None of those had a scientific view of the world

  39. David

    Well said Diogenes. Let me know when you find someone incorruptible and immortal to take on this task. Until then, I will take the ones we vote for and can remove from office if they get out of hand.

    Just remember this. If you just base life only on scientific principles, we could rid the world of many problems. We could test everyone for genetically borne disorders and sterilize every carrier. Scientifically, it would solve the problem. We hunt down and isolate for life, every HIV carrier and wipe out the disease when they died. Scientifically, it would also solve the problem.

    Sometimes there has to be more than just a scientific reason to do things. Compassion isn’t scientific. Mercy isn’t scientific. Kindness isn’t scientific. Trust isn’t scientific. Love isn’t scientific. These things are what really make things work. Science is important but it isn’t the whole basis for leading our lives.

  40. GM

    Nicely said, the problem is that human may think that compassion, mercy, kindness, trust and love drive the world, but the reality is quite different. In the real world what matters is the movement of energy and matter around, and the most important thing is to keep the entropy of whatever system you care about (your body, your home, your city, the whole human civilization) as low as possible…

  41. David

    Well, if forced to live in the cold, mechanical, and pointless world that you describe, I think I would rather just curl up and die. It has nothing to commend it other than the mindless activity of a slime mold or fungus growing on a dead tree. It leaves nothing to aspire to. It sounds like something out of a bad science fiction story. I prefer to live in the world we have, even with all its countless failings, because I believe it has more to offer.

  42. GM

    What things are and what you wish them to be need not be the same

  43. John Kwok

    @ David -

    Apparently Germany is still in the midst of dealing with sociological and economic issues with respect to reunification, if I am to believe anecdotal stories I have heard from long-term expatriate Americans (including a high school classmate who had worked for the Frankfurt stock market exchange) and others, including Germans.

  44. John Kwok

    @ Chris, GM and others -

    Just wanted to point out that the USA Science and Engineering Festival is having its inaugural event this October for approximately two weeks in DC. I don’t believe all the programs have been established yet and would encourage you – especially if you are interested in organizing an event(s) – to contact them ASAP. In particular, you should contact Larry Bock, who is the primary organizer. For details, look here:

    http://www.usasciencefestival.org

    Think this might be an excellent means of trying to influence some aspects of science policy in DC. I know already that a mutual friend of Chris and mine is participating, and know of others who are as well.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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