Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Thank You Senator Whitehouse

University of Utah, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University scientists with US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse D-RI, 3rd from left)
Last night I had the great honor of attending a dinner with US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and several scientists from the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University.  It is quite remarkable that a sitting US Senator flew across the country and dedicated two and a half hours to meet with a handful of scientists far away from his home state.  The Senator and his staff also deserve kudos for inviting a graduate student and post-doc to the meeting and providing a great opportunity for young scientists to discuss science and policy with our political leaders.

Over the years I have met with many legislators and staffers about climate change.  I typically do not seek these meetings, but I believe it is vital for scientists to interact with our political leaders when asked.  The quality of these conversations, either one-on-one or in committee hearings varies.  At the low end, legislators or their staff are simply milking your for information to support their ideological views, or they might be looking to score some political points with voters.  At the high end, there are legislators who are trying to understand the science or policy options, engage in spirited discussion, and are capable of analysis and reason.  Whether or not such conversations fall on the low or high end of the spectrum doesn't necessarily depend on political persuasion.  I have engaged conversations with both republicans and democrats, and more difficult, ideological conversations with individuals from each party too.  

Senator Whitehouse fell into the high-end category as he was down to earth and fully engaged.  He also answered many questions that we had about policy and how to better communicate our science.  His wife is a marine scientist and he had an unusually deep understanding the perspectives and challenges facing science and higher education today.  

It was a very rewarding evening and I thank Senator Whitehouse for the invitation.

Addendum at 3 PM: More on Senator Whitehouse's visit at the Deseret News.

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