Rush Holt draws connections between science, politics


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Photo by Courtesy of Randi Chmielewski |

Rush Holt (D-12) shares his views on the links between politics and science on Friday at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.


Rush Holt said both the science and political communities have little understanding of the potential interaction they could have. The two parties possess different qualities which, if combined, can achieve a great outcome.

Holt, D-12, does not intend to seek re-election in 2014, but he will continue to serve all American citizens, advocating for science within the political arena.

Along with other professionals and researchers, Holt discussed the role of science in politics on Friday at the Eagleton Institute of Politics on Douglass campus.

“When I entered politics as an expert in science, I had been told that facts are negotiable in Washington,” Holt said.

While a politician’s portrayal of a scientist is marked by irrelevance, scientists are even more mistrustful of politicians.

“Historically, politicians must understand both sides of the question so they can get around it,” he said.

Scientists are not necessarily more intelligent, but they know how to use statistical reasoning. Politics should embrace a scientific perspective, which provides a resolution beyond any theoretical mistake.

“We are not looking for the truth, but the balance between competing interests,” Holt said. “The U.S. government has created the necessary balance to be successful.”

Science is often associated with certainty, which is aimed at establishing fixed standards. In reality, scientists conduct their research within a provisional world in which every hypothesis is subjected to further experiment and review.

He explained how the founding fathers of the U.S. government studied natural philosophy while practicing science. Therefore, they founded a government based on a scientific thinking opposing the European monarchical absolutism.

“We have established a democratic country based on the evidence, not on an individual’s status,” Holt said. “Nowadays we drifted from that perspective.”

He thinks today’s system has become more ideological than scientific.

“Ideology begins with an idea and then finds evidence to confirm it,” he said. “Ideology should not drive politics.”

Libby O’Hare, program officer with the Board on Higher Education and Workforce at the National Academy of Sciences, emphasized media portrayal of women, which tends to highlight their female features and how they present themselves, ignoring their capacity and intelligence.

O’Hare also said women face conflicting social expectations and demands that include reaching a professional goal while also taking on the responsibility of raising children.

“My suggestion is to put your career first,” she said.    

The NAS is non-profit organization of prominent scientists and researchers whose mission is to provide advice to the government and federal agencies on science and technology by applying the principles of independence, balance and objectivity.

Ultimately, O’Hare encouraged all students to start building relationships with organizations which can ease the struggles to find a way to reach the governmental institutions.

Dr. Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, professor of Neuroscience and Cell Biology and Pediatrics at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said curiosity is the fundamental personal trait leading to science.

“Science is not a religion, but a constant discovery,” DiCicco-Bloom said.

His research focuses on the basic processes leading to the production of neurons and brain development. He also explores neurodevelopmental disorders like schizophrenia and autism.

Scientists often give themeselves the benefit of the doubt, thus initiating a personal battle with their own uncertainty.

Scientists cannot live locked in their labs, apart from the world, but DiCicco-Bloom said they must communicate their knowledge within the policy-making processes.

He said researchers must learn the impact of their knowledge within the public spectrum, but the outcome of a discovery is often unpredictable.  

“Sometimes the answer is neither yes or no, but a third answer that we have not expected,” he said.


Sabrina Restivo

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