Update Corner – Science In The Primaries, UCS Declares

Physicist and diploma mill warrior George Gollin lost his primary race for the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois.  He placed second in the three-person Democratic primary held on March 18th.  I would not expect Gollin to announce any future plans until after the 2014 elections.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) completed its Most Science-Friendly President competition about a month ago.  While I have mixed feelings on the value of the exercise, I think it’s worth noting how the competition unfolded.

There were eight presidents selected for the competition: Lincoln, Eisenhower, Jefferson, Carter, Theodore Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, Kennedy and Nixon.

In the first round, Lincoln defeated Eisenhower, Carter prevailed over Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt beat George H.W. Bush and Nixon won over Kennedy.

In the semi-finals, Carter beat Lincoln and Roosevelt defeated Nixon.

The early 20th century prevailed in the final (despite an admitted UCS bias towards those Presidents who dealt with matters connected to pressing issues of today), with Roosevelt selected as the winner.  Given the focus in most science policy circles on post-World War II activities, this result could be considered a useful reminder that science policy in the U.S. certainly predates the establishment of all the agencies we usually think of when talking about the subject.

Of course, as I noted last month, what makes a ‘science-friendly’ president is not terribly clear-cut (see the comments on this UCS blog post for examples).  Even if agreement was reached on a definition, attributing the relevant accomplishments to a president can also be simplistic, if not inaccurate.

An interesting footnote to the discussion is this blog post from one of staff at the Union of Concerned Scientists responsible for the competition.  She notes that when following up with Richard Norton Smith, one of the historians that she consulted for the competition, he had changed his mind and offered John Quincy Adams as a president for consideration.  He cited advocacy for a national observatory and support for the Smithsonian Institution (post-Presidency, when Adams was in Congress) among the reasons he should be considered.

Yes, this has been an interesting thought experiment.  And to the extent that experiment can help uncover our biases with respect to science policy and history of the same, it’s an experiment worth repeating every so often.


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