A political conversation

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Quark Matter the conference proper kicked off this morning (yeah, it was actually yesterday — it’s been a long day) with an interesting (and welcome) variation from the usual physics conference fare. Our opening keynote speaker was Bart Gordon, a former congressman from Tennessee who recently spent four years as the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

Congressman Gordon speaking at the conference
Congressman Gordon speaking at the conference

His actual speech seemed like standard “politician’s patter,” the sort of this that’s supposed to make you feel good but doesn’t say much concrete. At least, I’m not sure exactly what his point was. The interesting part was the Q&A session afterwards. Audience members asked some insightful questions about education, immigration, and so on, but mostly about keeping government funding for basic research, and generally ensuring that the sort of science we’re doing continues to have a place in society. What does it take to make this a talking point in the government?

Congressman Gordon responded with what I consider to be an important point: people have to talk to their local representatives. Lobbying 101, he said, is that you lean on the elected officials who actually represent you, because it’s their job to listen. To effect change on a national level, this needs to happen all over the country. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the public support does seem to be there — anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s not hard to get people excited about basic research — but it’s important to make clear that it requires a supportive government, both politically and financially (that means taxes!) to make it happen.