APS News

Remembering a Friend of Science

George E. Brown
George E. Brown

US Representative George E. Brown, Jr. (D-CA) died in July from an infection developed following heart valve replacement surgery in May, in the midst of his 18th term as California's longest-serving congressman. The ranking Minority Member of the House Science Committee, Brown was widely recognized as a strong advocate for federal R&D funding, as well as a champion of civil rights and the environment.

An industrial physicist by training - he earned a BS in industrial physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, in the late 1940s - Brown entered public service as a Monterey Park city councilman in 1954, 15 years after he helped integrate student housing at UCLA by taking a black student as his roommate. He was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1962, representing Monterey Park, but gave up his seat after eight years to run (unsuccessfully) for the US Senate. He returned to the House in 1972, serving San Bernardino and surrounding communities, and remained in that position until his death.

During his years in Congress, Brown helped establish the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the now-defunct Office of Technology Assessment. He advocated peaceful space exploration and international scientific collaboration, and opposed earmarking of federal science funds, a practice known colloquially as "pork-barrel funding." He was also an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War in an era when it was politically unpopular to be so. Because of his science background, he became a fixture on the House Science Committee, twice serving as chairman.

One of Brown's major initiatives was a study of the health of the US research enterprise, and he was one of the first politicians to recognize and articulate the current prevailing national science policy: namely, that the path from scientific discovery to technological innovation to commercial product is complex and nonlinear and national policy should reflect this nature. "Always genial, he nevertheless fought tenaciously for civil rights, the environment and science," APS Director of Public Affairs Robert Park wrote of Brown's passing in the July 16 What's New. "With his passing, the world is darker."

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette