How Representative Akin Brings Out Captain Renault

There’s really nothing to add over the recent remarks of Missouri Representative (and Senate candidate) Akin where he subscribed to the notion that women had the capability to shut down conception in instances of rape.  However, the jibes against the Congressman occasionally mentioned his service on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.  Presumably this was done to maximize irony, but I want to push back against an assumption underlying the sarcasm.

Membership in Congressional committees need not correspond to expertise and/or understanding in the subject matter covered by the committee.

This WIRED Science article captures some of the statements from other members (current and former) of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that imply Rep. Akin is not alone in his scientific understanding.  Given the numbers, it’s harder for me to agree with the author’s assertion that Akin’s membership is an ‘unsettling’ part of the latest problems.

Let me suggest another possibility – the House Science, Space and Technology Committee is not a prestigious committee, and does not attract those interested in senior House leadership or higher office.

For instance, Representative Rush Holt, currently the only Ph.D. physicist in the Congress, does not serve on that committee.  Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker and generally considered a major geek when in Congress, did not serve on the committee.  Those individuals who have served on the Committee with distinction and commitment to science and technology issues (former Representatives  Sherwood Boehlert, Vern Ehlers, and George Brown) did not (as far as I can tell) aspire to higher leadership positions in the House or elsewhere.

So, that there are those members on the committee that some would consider not qualified to serve is not such a surprise to me.  Science and technology are not of particular importance to Congress.  That the brightest lights of the House often don’t sit on the Science, Space and Technology Committee is not a particular surprise.

(I don’t address the Senate here, in part because the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has a much broader jurisdiction than its House counterpart.)


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