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  • David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.
 

U.S. Science Advocate Brown Dies

16 July 1999 5:00 pm
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Scientists have lost one of their leading advocates in Congress. Representative George E. Brown Jr. (D-CA), the oldest member of the House of Representatives and a leader of the House Science Committee, died yesterday of an infection following open heart surgery. The physicist-turned-politician was 79.

As a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1940s, Brown studied physics and later worked as a civil engineer and municipal administrator. He entered politics in 1954, winning several city and state offices before being elected to Congress in 1962 from California's 42nd District, which includes San Bernardino and other communities east of Los Angeles. He joined the House Science Committee in 1965, rising to chairman in 1990. After Republicans won control of the House in 1994, Brown became the committee's senior Democrat.

One of the few House members with scientific training, Brown became known as a science policy expert and an outspoken advocate for government spending on basic research, once calling it "one of the most important investments taxpayers can make for a better world." He was a moving force behind the 1976 strengthening of the White House science advisor's office, and the 1972 creation of Congress's Office of Technology Assessment, a scientist-stocked agency that advised lawmakers. Republicans abolished the agency in 1995, charging it had become politicized. But Brown forged alliances with many Republicans in his efforts to boost space exploration and establish international scientific agreements with countries in Latin America.

"George was a true friend to the science community," says James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), the current chairman of the Science Committee. "Even after sitting through hundreds of presentations by researchers, [he] never lost a genuine delight in hearing of new breakthroughs." He was Congress's "wise man of science," adds Rita Colwell, head of the National Science Foundation. D. Allan Bromley, dean of engineering at Yale University and a science advisor to several Republican presidents, says Brown "always took the time to understand what the experts needed to move their fields forward. ... He will be very much missed."

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