Could a U.S. Science Laureate Advance the Sciences?

New bipartisan legislation, supported by two scientific associations, would create an official science laureate of the United States.

How do you get people excited about science?

Several members of Congress are hoping an honorary position similar to the U.S. poet laureate will do the trick. Last week, the bipartisan group introduced legislation to establish an official position of science laureate, someone who would travel across the country to help promote scientific achievement and “inspire future scientists,” according to a statement by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), one of the bill’s sponsors.

Scientists like Albert Einstein or Sally Ride can capture the public’s attention and inspire Americans if they are given a platform to speak from.

“As American students trail their international peers in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] proficiency, the U.S. Science Laureate will be a national role model who can encourage students to learn more about the sciences,” Hirono said in the statement. “By elevating great American scientific communicators, we can empower students—especially girls and minorities—to get excited about science.”

According to the bill, the new position would be appointed by the president from a pool of nominees chosen by the National Academy of Sciences, and the appointee would serve a term of one to two years. The Senate legislation’s cosponsors include Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS);  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) are cosponsors of a corresponding bill in their chamber .

“Scientists like Albert Einstein or Sally Ride can capture the public’s attention and inspire Americans if they are given a platform to speak from,” Lofgren said. “As our society becomes ever more technical, a role model for how important scientific advancement is for our nation’s future will help us. The science laureate can serve that role, as an accomplished individual to engage Americans on the importance of science in our lives and who can encourage our students to be the innovators of tomorrow.”

Among the bill’s industry supporters are the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society.

“We hope that the bill will encourage the best and brightest to pursue scientific careers,” said Lauren Posey, manager for government affairs at ACS. “We believe that this legislation will benefit ACS members and the broader scientific community by bringing awareness to the field and the critical work that scientists do for our country. An increased awareness of the role that science plays in our country’s ability to compete and innovate on a global scale is critical to ensure continued investments in research and development and science education.”

A government role for a figure along the lines of Albert Einstein may help advance scientific clauses, legislators say. (Austrian National Library)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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