A new Congress means change—change in the way that votes swing, legislature is pushed past, and committees are formed. With the 2014 midterm elections, the Republican Party took control of Congress, and subsequently, new senators were named to positions in congressional committees.
Recently, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R.) was named chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, while Fla Sen. Marco Rubio (R.) was named chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. Interestingly enough, neither seem to have the education or beliefs necessary to head such influential positions.
Cruz is infamous for his 21-hour and 19-minute-long speech that led to the 2013 government shutdown, affecting all federal offices and agencies, leaving many temporarily without work. One agency affected was NASA which, you guessed it, is one of the agencies under Cruz’s subcommittee. The Texas senator is an immense advocate for NASA’s success, despite action to the contrary.
“One of the problems with the Obama administration is that it has degraded NASA. It has degraded for space exploration, degraded manned exploration because the Obama administration has undervalued that and shifted to funding other priorities,” Cruz stated. “It shifted the funding to global warming pursuits rather than carry out NASA’s core mission.”
Cruz vehemently denies that global warming exists, claiming that “there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.” His claims could be damaging to NASA research, as the space agency recently launched five new projects investigating global climate change.
His fellow senator Rubio claims that climate change and human activity are not linked, going so far as to say “I am not a scientist” when asked about the environment. Rubio’s statement indicates that someone lacking interest in science will be in charge of legislature and funding for major aspects of research and economic activity in the American science industry, which is concerning. Their appointments could mean less funding will be allotted to science and tech research fields, which, as Cruz has ironically also said, is absolutely critical if the U.S. wants to remain a world power and leader.
With their appointments to the congressional subcommittees, the government is politicizing science with little regard for how this could damage relevant legislature. Two senators denying climate change (key in the area of environmental study) would exercise great influence over major organizations that conduct research to combat the detrimental effects to the climate. They may make decisions to give funding to more “worthy” pursuits as a result of their beliefs. Politicizing science would be incredibly ironic in this case; science would be subject to their corporate investments and partisanship rather than remaining objective and neutral in its findings. Their outspokenness on the lack of climate change and “so-called scientific theories” concerning such could have a dizzying effect on the American consciousness about such things.
Nowadays, we value and prioritize science as a field of study—more money is allotted to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning than any other avenue of specialized education. Much of the capital in the domestic and international economy stems from tech startups and research, so we can’t afford to reduce funding or attention to these topics without risking falling behind as a superpower. If we reduce funding, or if Sen. Cruz or Sen. Rubio use their influence to promote the idea that climate change is blasphemy or irrelevant, we run the risk of increasing damage to our environment, education, and economy. While no plans have been created to do so, it is possible that their beliefs will persuade Congress to stop funding such programs.
Perhaps the populace has no direct say in who gets appointed to these subcommittees, but it’s important to think about their consequences nonetheless, especially at a science- and research-oriented institution such as ours. Hopefully in the future, these committees’ chairs will be filled with properly educated senators.