What began as a seemingly nonpartisan proposal to name an honorary unpaid Science Laureate of the United States in the same vein as the US Poet Laureate has fallen on the rocks of partisan rancor in Washington.
The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), and by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in the House. It had been sailing through Congress with bipartisan support. Wired Magazine speculated about potential nominees in the vein of Richard Feynman or Carl Sagan, such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Jill Tarter, Mike Brown, or Sylvia Earle.
And then, the American Conservative Union discovered the plan when it hit the schedule for a floor vote, the magazine Science reported Thursday.
After Larry Hart, Director of the ACU, sent a letter to Congress saying in part that the president would be able to appoint scientists "who will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases,” House leadership pulled the bill from the schedule, returning it to Committee on Science, Space, and Technology where it will likely be killed in the Republican-controlled House.
The text of the bill requires "the President to appoint a Science Laureate on the basis of: (1) merit, particularly the ability of such individual to foster and enhance public awareness and interest in science and to provide ongoing significant scientific contributions; and (2) recommendations received by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) based on those factors." The laureate would serve a term of one or two years and would be encouraged to continue his or her scientific work, directing the NAS to facilitate those duties.