Rep. McNerney in WiredMarch 15th, 2007
Posted by: admin
Here’s a brief interview in the March issue of Wired with Rep. Jerry McNerney, the wind engineer who pulled off a huge upset over Dick “I hate endangered animals” Pombo in California’s 11th District. (My sister lives in that district and a good friend knows somebody on McNerney’s staff, so we’re tight.)
McNerney’s ascension to a nice little office in Cannon is noteworthy for us science policy and politics types because he becomes only the third Hill resident with a science Ph.D. (well, his is in math, but close enough), along with Rep. Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Ehlers (R-MI).
The interview is short, but the best part is this:
What’s the biggest difference between science and politics? Science is all about truth. You gather your evidence and logically prove your claims. Congress is all about people, relationships, and rules. There are a lot of rules.
[cough cough ahem] That’s what a lot of pure scientists want to think, anyway. The STS and SSS people find that … well … not really the way science works.
More to the pure politics:
You don’t have any political experience. Isn’t that a liability? It’s an asset. People are looking to me for help on certain issues, and I’m getting a lot of respect for what I bring to the table. It would be even better to bring in scientists when they’re 29 years old — they’d know the science but would have time to learn all the rules.
I don’t disagree with that, but I’ve always found it interesting that darkhorse, politically inexperienced candidates (Ross Perot?) always run on how it’s good to have no experience. Then once they’ve been there of course they have to run on how it is good that they do have political experience. Good for the constituents, good for the process, the nation, etc… The incumbent will always run on how you need an incumbent in Washington who knows how the system works and how to get things done so (s)he can bring home the bacon.
So we should be combing university labs for political prospects? Sure. But you’d have to teach them to be nice to people. That’s not part of the job description in science.
(or in blogging…..?) I went from a Ph.D. program in the physical sciences straight into the DC world and I was fascinated by how both universes are extremely adversarial, but in very different ways. You really don’t have to be nice in science, but the stakes of getting an equation slightly wrong or interpreting a figure incorrectly aren’t really that high. The stakes in writing a tax bill, or negotiating an amendment on a public works bill that will create 1000 jobs in one state and take them away in another, or sending the military overseas are something else, but these things must be negotiated calmly. I often think about that when I’m sitting in an academic talk that gets heated between the presenter and a questioner.