by Peter Stemmler

Disillusioning, political quagmire, futile (see more)

Selected from among the brightest young scientists in the
country, they travel
to Washington, like so many Drs. Smith, to serve their country
and illuminate Congress with the bright light of scientific truth. And then . . . no one listens to them.

Placed as official advisers to our congressional representatives, these fellows’ disillusionment is swift and merciless. “It’s an exercise in futility to get science across in Congress,” says Raphael Sagarin, a marine ecologist who just finished his year
in D.C. “The side with more power wins, not the side with the best data or the most cogent argument.”

Sagarin saw this happen
on issues in his field from endangered species to
global warming. Despite the din of scientific consensus on the latter, our government continues to ignore the problem. Sagarin’s boss, Rep. Hilda Solis (DCA), sought to base legislation on solid science, as did many of her colleagues from across the aisle. But the committees that spawn environmental legislation–Resources, and Energy and Commerce–are chaired by Richard Pombo (RCA) and Billy Tauzin (RLA) respectively. Pombo has announced his wish to “update” the Endangered Species Act. Tauzin seems more interested in helping corporate polluters than in looking at greenhouse gas data.

“It was so bad on this committee that they would not even pass an amendment that would have stated for the record that Congress has concerns about global warming,” Sagarin recalls. “It’s so highly politicized, the science just doesn’t
matter.” Though he is now embarking on his post-doc, Sagarin feels great relief to be liberated from his government post. “I’m happy,” he says, “to come back to science.”