STEM needs a bigger presence in government

In the turbulent political atmosphere we find ourselves in today, it’s clear that a change in the status quo is needed. According to the Congressional Research Service, the vast majority of Senators and representatives come from business, law, or politics backgrounds, while few come from a STEM background. In fact, there are only 8 engineers (one in the Senate and 7 in the House), one chemist, one physicist, and one microbiologist in the entirety of Congress. While

STEM graduates often do not focus on government in their education, the problem-solving abilities and evidence-based thinking stressed in STEM fields are extremely valuable in a government setting.

   Concerning scientific and technology policy, it is clear that our current lawmakers are vastly underqualified. Climate change is an issue that our generation will be struggling with for the rest of our lives. Right now, we have lawmakers who either do not understand the gravity of this issue or flat out deny its existence. A classic example of this scientific illiteracy is from a few years ago, when Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to show that climate change does not exist. As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of

climatology would know, weather and climate are not the same thing. Inhofe is still in office to this day, and has chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works two separate times in his career. I hope I’m not alone in thinking this is unacceptable. In a similar vein, we’ve seen regular tweets from the President implying that climate change is a hoax simply because it’s cold in some regions of the country. Once again, weather and climate are not the same, and having the leader of the country perpetuate this belief is dangerous and irresponsible.

   In regards to technology, it only takes a few minutes of watching the congressional hearing of Google CEO Sundar Pichai from last December to realize that our elected representatives on both sides of the aisle do not understand modern technology at all. I’d venture a guess that many congresspeople cannot rotate a PDF, and yet they are charged with creating policy that affects all users of technology. If more STEM-educated people were in office, rather than businessmen whose careers were mostly in the pre-internet era, this issue of technological ignorance would be minimized.

   The value of STEM-educated people is not limited to science and technology issues. More than ever, our country needs to rely on pragmatic, evidence-based solutions to our problems, instead of seemingly guessing based on outdated business principles. Government is not a business; the idea is to maximize well-being of a vast and diverse population, not maximize profits for a small group of shareholders. The problem-solving process STEM-educated individuals learn throughout their educations and careers can be applied to many issues, and this process is clearly not used by the majority of our lawmakers.

   As Mines students, we have these abilities. Even if running for political office does not appeal to you, supporting candidates with STEM backgrounds and evidence-based policy is crucial to our future. As the problems our generation will have to tackle stack up, it’s time to

support solutions and candidates that will actually work to secure the well-being of ours and future generations.

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