Heard on Campus: Rush Holt, retired lawmaker and AAAS leader

Matt Swayne
October 13, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- "What science has brought us, does bring us, and will bring us is the stuff for volumes and volumes of discussion. We understand so much that has improved the quality of life -- public health, for example, vaccinations. We know how the world systems work, the ecology, the physical systems enough so that we can predict where we're going – climate change, for example. We understand how cells protect themselves from viruses in ways that will allow us to manipulate the genetic material to prevent genetic diseases. And our social and behavioral sciences tell us a lot about how we can get along more peaceably. Every example I chose has a flipside. We have millions of Americans who deny their kids vaccinations and, what's troubling, millions more who say that's OK. We have millions of Americans who are denying the evidence about climate change. We have most American high school biology students not getting a satisfactory treatment of evolution in their classes. As for social and behavioral sciences, when was the last time you heard an argument -- a debate -- in economics that was based on evidence, rather than ideological assertions?"

-- Rush Holt, executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), spoke about the need for scientists to become involved in policy discussions during "Scientist-Citizen: Science Policy in the Age of Promise and Peril," a town hall event held in the Freeman Auditorium in Penn State's HUB-Robeson Center on Oct. 13.

scientist-citizen panel discussion

Peter Hudson, left, director of Penn State's Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Rush Holt, executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State, participated in a panel discussion entitled 'Scientist-Citizen: Science Policy in the Age of Promise and Peril' at the HUB-Robeson Center on the evening of Oct. 13. The event was presented by the Penn State Science Policy Society.

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

"The big problem, the big peril, at least here in the United States, but I think to some extent elsewhere, is that people have lost their respect for what we used to have in the United States, which is a reverence for evidence. That's the peril."

Holt, who holds a doctorate in physics, was an assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, one of the largest alternative energy research facilities in the country, and also taught physics and science policy at Swarthmore College. He served for 16 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New Jersey's 12th Congressional District.

Penn State researchers Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Peter Hudson, director of Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Willaman Professor of Biology, joined Holt on the panel.

The Penn State Science Policy Society hosted the event. The society is a graduate student-run organization that aims to educate students about the connection between their research and public policy and teaches them how to be advocates for their science.

You can find out more about the Penn State Science Policy Society at their website:  http://sites.psu.edu/psusciencepolicy/

Last Updated October 14, 2016