From the science museum to congress

Pres­i­dent Aoun shares a laugh with Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Markey and his wife, Susan Blu­men­thal, after the cer­e­mony. Photo by Kristie Gillooly.

Just about every kid within a 50-​​mile radius of Boston’s Museum of Sci­ence visits that place at some point in his or her early edu­ca­tion or scouting career. If they’re lucky, they might even get to do an overnight, sleeping under the life-​​size dinosaur model on the first floor.

I remember my visit well and so does U.S. Con­gressman Ed Markey. Having grown up in Malden, Mass., Rep. Markey hopped a bus at age 10 with his fellow cub scouts in Den 9 of the Immac­u­late Con­cep­tion Grammar School to make the trip. “When we went back to the Immac­u­late Con­cep­tion Grammar School,” Markey recalls, “the nuns taught us that there was no ten­sion between sci­ence and reli­gion. But in fact, sci­ence was an answer to our prayers because it made it pos­sible to improve the lives of people in ways that had never hap­pened before.”

On Monday, the pres­i­dents of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, Boston Uni­ver­sity, Har­vard Uni­ver­sity and the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nology — all mem­bers of the Sci­ence Coali­tion — gath­ered at the museum to present Markey with the Cham­pion of Sci­ence award. The award rec­og­nizes his advo­cacy for funding basic research in sci­ence and tech­nology throughout his 36 years in office.

In opening remarks, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun noted that Markey’s mis­sion is more rel­e­vant today than ever before. “We need cham­pions and you are our cham­pion,” said Aoun.

After 25 years of serving on the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mittee, Markey joined the Energy and Com­merce Com­mittee, which is now tasked with addressing some of the most pressing chal­lenges facing our planet.

The pres­i­dents of North­eastern, BU, Har­vard and MIT, along with the pres­i­dent of the Boston Museum of Sci­ence, pre­sented Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ed Markey with the Sci­ence Coalition’s Cham­pion of Sci­ence Award on Monday. Photo by Kristie Gillooly.

Markey recalled that in the 1960s, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy “chal­lenged America to be bold” when he addressed the United States Con­gress. Putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade, Kennedy said, would require devel­op­ments in engi­neering, met­al­lurgy and sci­ence. But it was done. Every day, Markey said, the flag that even­tu­ally flew on the moon looks out over Con­gress. “It’s an incred­ible example of how that gen­er­a­tion under­stood the impor­tance of what you do,” he said, acknowl­edging universities.

Each gen­er­a­tion has to answer the ques­tion: do they under­stand the future?” Markey said. “Do they under­stand that you don’t get a return on the incred­ible human cap­ital your country has unless you make the investment?”

Regard­less of the out­come of Tuesday’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the basic sci­ences stand to lose sig­nif­i­cant funding on Jan. 2 if Con­gress does not reduce the fed­eral budget by about $110 bil­lion before then. The National Insti­tutes of Health and the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion are among the “dis­cre­tionary pro­grams” that could col­lec­tively lose $39 bil­lion, resulting in an esti­mated 8.2 per­cent loss per pro­gram per year.

That is the greatest tragedy that could befall our country,” said Markey. “We are only 4 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, but we are still the hope of the world.”

Going for­ward, he said, we must all be more per­sis­tent in urging our rep­re­sen­ta­tives to act with fore­sight and bipar­ti­san­ship. “This ten­sion between reli­gion and sci­ence that Sister Creda told us was nonex­is­tant is wide as the Mis­sis­sippi River,” he said. “To over­come it, we need to partner across the aisle and chal­lenge Con­gress with the same bold­ness that put a man on the moon.”