You might know me as the congressman who beat IBM's supercomputer Watson in Jeopardy. A few weeks ago, reddit helped focus attention on my new legislation to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act and end the surveillance state ( -- thanks to those who chimed in.

I'm also an astrophysicist and would be the only scientist in the Senate. I've been sharing a series of "Geek Out" videos ( drawing on my scientific background to make an evidence-based case for progressive ideas. At that link is a new 15-second video regarding the NSA, just released now for reddit.


Ask me anything!

Update (1:20): I have to go now, I will check in later this afternoon and try to answer a few more questions. Thanks for letting me join you.

Update (4:20): I'm back to answer questions for a few minutes more.

Update (4:50): And signing off. Thanks again:

Comments: 1229 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

Animastryfe685 karma

You voted aye for the 'Defund the NSA's bulk telephone records collection" amendment. Good for you.

rushholt514 karma

Although this abrupt cancellation of funding would have been a fairly drastic step the public is outraged about the revelations of the scale of government warrantless spying on Americans and Members of Congress are fed up with the cover up and deception from the intelligence community. Nevertheless, I was somewhat surprised by the closeness of the vote. I think this means we are going to be able to get the kind of debate that we could not get earlier when the PATRIOT Act was reauthorized and the FISA Amendments Act was passed. Perhaps you know that I have introduced legislation to repeal both of those. There's a brief statement on this at my website

KGFIII136 karma

  1. As an accomplished scientist, how would you rate the scientific knowledge of your colleagues in Congress? What could be done to improve it?

  2. I'm a liberal living in NJ. I plan to vote in the primary and special elections for Senate. I am predisposed to vote for Cory Booker, as I think his name recognition and state-wide popularity make him a safer bet to keep the seat Democratic, though of course I realize it's more likely that the Democratic candidate will win no matter who it is. I think you're both good candidates, and as far as I can tell your views are fairly similar. Why should I vote for you instead of him?

  3. I learned from your Wikipedia page that you are the only Quaker in Congress. Has this ever been an issue? How big of a thing is personal religion in Congress?

rushholt403 karma

  1. I currently serve in the House of Representatives with an emphasis on Representative. Members of Congress, by and large smart, dedicated, and altruistic, have the same shortcomings and misunderstandings about science as the general population. For decades in the U.S. we have taught science in the schools as an area of study for future scientists, not for the general population. We should correct that so all Americans learn to "think like a scientist" even if they don't want to pursue that professionally.

rushholt125 karma

  1. As my ballot slogan says, I'm a teacher, scientist, and progressive. In each of those categories I am set apart from the other candidates. Those words summarize my background, my experience, my approach to problems and my vision for New Jersey and the country. I have built over many decades a well-established record as a progressive. I have a long list of accomplishments in policy and public service. Mine is a record of substance, not just rhetoric. Incidentally, I will be the only scientist in the U.S. Senate.

rushholt84 karma

  1. The Quaker religion is a Protestant religion that puts an emphasis on acts as well as faith.

bobbutts122 karma

For US citizens outside of your District and State, can you provide some suggestions on how we can help you end the surveillance state?

rushholt322 karma

I have introduced legislation to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act. The wholesale vacuum cleaner collection of data on all Americans and sifting through it again and again until the intelligence analysts find incriminating or troubling associations not only promotes the idea of guilt by association but upsets one of the founding principles of this country: that all Americans are equal under the law and that they are presumed to be above suspicion unless there is probable cause to suspect them of wrongdoing. The NSA warrantless surveillance of Americans means that the government is treating Americans as suspects first and citizens second. You can sign the petiton to support my legislation here:

Favre99112 karma

Are you supportive of giving more funding towards NASA? If so, what will you be doing to help with that?

rushholt273 karma

I am perhaps the greatest supporter for investment in research. A few years ago in the economic stimulus bill I inserted $22 billion of new funding for the nation's science research agencies including NASA. NASA research is important not just for understanding the solar system and the universe beyond but also for giving us a better understanding of our Earth, ourselves, and physical processes on the Earth.

farfromactuality96 karma

Would you ever consider doing a "Steve Holt" gesture from Arrested Development?

pbandy3453 karma

What separates you from Mr. Pallone and Mr. Booker as a candidate? Why should a liberal pick you over those two candidates?

rushholt136 karma

As I said earlier, my background and experience as a teacher, scientist and progressive sets me apart from all three other candidates. In Congress not only have I compiled one of the most progressive voting records -- on the environment, education, worker protections, civil rights, civil liberties, fiscal and economic matters -- I am the person in this campaign who is proposing, vocally and prominently, bold progressive ideas. See the following link for what I mean:

And by the way, I have (according to the League of Conservation Voters) THE BEST lifetime environmental record of any Member of Congress. I'm also recognized with the highest rating by the American Association of University Women, Pro-Choice America, the NAACP, Humane Society, NEA, and many others.

Mc2sand3s45 karma

What is your stance on the Keystone pipeline which will ship Alberta crude oil from Canada into the United States?

rushholt159 karma

The Keystone pipeline would transport some of the worlds dirtiest oil containing some of the lowest net energy through the United States for export to the world. The United States would bear the risk of pipeline leaks (which invariably occur). Except for the few thousand temporary jobs which would disappear after a couple of years only a few dozen permanent jobs would remain. It's hard to see any benefit for us. I oppose its construction. You can read more of my thoughts here:

austings44 karma

What sort of steps will you take to help students like me in NJ?

rushholt63 karma

Look at the Student Loan video at One of the great accomplishments of the USA has been broad education - in two senses of the word broad. We have worked to make education from the elementary years onward broadly accessible and we have always tried to keep American education broad, not narrow, so that Americans have the breadth of knowledge, the flexibility and creativity to deal with a changing future. Part of that is making college affordable and making sure that the emphasis in the early years is on public education not a restrictive, market-based system.

Lisa83143 karma

You might not even see this, but:

How do we change public perception of evolution and climate change? Denial in these two areas seems to be largely America-specific. Why is there such a distrust of science in the public, and how do you propose to remedy that?

rushholt72 karma

As John Adams said, facts are stubborn things. We must not let people who deny the science or invent their own science guide the debate on important issues. With climate change although the data are stochastic and noisy nevertheless the processes are measurable and understandable and can't be wished away.

I expect we will be talking more about this Tuesday night, June 30, at my unique campaign event that my staff is calling Geek Out With Rush. Joined by a panel of experts, Nobel prize winners, and such (including former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu) I will be taking questions from around the country in live online forum. I want people to understand that my candidacy is one of substance, not glitz, that I make my policy decisions in a thoughtful way, and that it would be good to have at least one scientist in the U.S. Senate (don't you think?) You can sign up to participate (maybe hold a house party?) at

RudeTurnip36 karma

Dear Congressman Holt,

This is literally the first time I've written to my Congressman (that being you). Given that you are already on top of all of the issues that I care about, what else can I do as a citizen to help with progressive causes?

rushholt44 karma

Maybe you'll find ideas at my website

theKinkajou35 karma

Any chance of reviving the Office of Technology Assessment?

rushholt65 karma

For 25 years the Office of Technology Assessment provided excellent technological support to Congress until Newt Gingrich killed it. Congress badly needs it to understand the implications of the technological components of so many of the issues before the Congress. I have been the principal proponent of reviving the OTA.

ToeKneePA34 karma

Congressman Holt, I know you have been very helpful in supporting funding for ALS research, which is important to me. What more can be done in Congress to help advance ALS research and care? Will you continue to be a leader on this and other medical issues should you join the Senate?

rushholt63 karma

Medical research is investment in the truest sense of the word. Money spent on high-quality, peer-reviewed medical research results in savings and enriched lives for everyone. The more devastating the disease the more important the research. You are right: I have always been a champion for ALS research and attention to families dealing with ALS and will continue to do that in the Senate.

PellegoIllud34 karma

Hey Dr. Holt,

Do you think an enormous problem which progressive politicians in the United States face is an inability to challenge false established paradigms? For example, the United States spends more on health care than most developed nations with single payer systems: a single payer system would probably save us money, but there isn't a single politician on the national scene who's willing to admit as much.

We know that the vast majority of voters do not understand concepts like the PPACA, or climate change, or national debt. I feel as though progressives are shooting themselves in the foot by refusing to explain economic concepts and ideas to voters, and instead are relying too much on idealistic fluff speeches. Do you feel the same way?

rushholt93 karma

One of the reasons that I continue to emphasize that I will be the only scientist in the Senate is that science is grounded in evidence and our public policies should be grounded in evidence. The example you make about healthcare in America is a good one. If we step back, look at the data and analyze the numbers it leads pretty clearly that we should have universal, single-payer healthcare coverage. In the case of gun safety, if we look at it as a public health issue and look at the evidence and analyze the numbers we would have a clearer idea of the steps to take to address the epidemic of gun violence in America. As for climate change, New Jerseyans certainly understand that climate change is real, deadly and costly and denial of the science (or invention of ones own scientific approach) is not a wise approach.

toughbutworthit33 karma

What is your opinion of the energy situation, from a scientist's perspective?

And who is the scientist, living or dead, who you think has best impacted society?

rushholt74 karma

The way we produce and use energy is the greatest insult to our planet. It is unsustainable and even changing our very climate in ways that are costly and deadly. Worldwide we must use energy more efficiently and move toward non-carbon-based energy sources. See too my video on climate change:

whatsyrfavoritedino33 karma

What's your favorite dinosaur?

rushholt204 karma

For decades my favorite dinosaur was the brontosaurus only to be told by paleontologists that there was no such thing. Now I know how all the Pluto fans felt.

andrewflux33 karma

What are a few of your favorite celestial objects and why?

rushholt108 karma

My favorite celestial object is the sun. Aside from its importance to life on Earth and aside from the fact that I studied the structure and working of the sun for years including in my Ph.D. research, the sun represents for me the beginning of modern science. When Galileo pointed out that there were blemishes (sunspots) on the sun and showed the world that it was not a perfect celestial sphere it suggested that the understanding and laws of science would apply everywhere across the entire universe and it made science relevant and important.

smiling_lizard31 karma

What are you plans for the future as far as your political career is concerned?

rushholt112 karma

I'm running for the U.S. Senate to be New Jersey's Senator to continue the progressive fight of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg. I've been a Member of the House of Representatives for more than 14 years now. I intend to serve in the Senate and nothing more (this is not a stepping stone for me).

shoe0223 karma

In your opinion, what are effective ways that constituents can have their voice heard by their representatives?

rushholt54 karma

There are e-mails, phone calls, faxes, letters -- I encourage my constituents to use them all. Last year I responded individually to over 50,000 communications. Use any or all means as well as letters to the editor, support for lobbying groups, and citizen action. I really do read and consider any and all of these communications as do many other Members of Congress.

wichitagnome20 karma

Neil deGrasse Tyson has often spoke about the fact that there are almost no congressmen from STEM backgrounds. As one of the few members of congress with a STEM background, was it difficult to break into politics, or have you encountered roadblocks because of the lack of a legal/political background?

rushholt66 karma

Yes, politics is hard. It is intellectually as challenging as physics and psychologically more challenging but I find it very rewarding and have found I have a knack for it.

By the way, in a reddit AMA a year ago, when asked to name a Member of Congress who pays sufficient attention to math and science, Neil named me.

farfromactuality13 karma

What is your take on Glenn Greenwald's recent endorsement of you? Do you think it is more of a benefit or a detriment to your campaign?

rushholt36 karma

For years I've admired Glenn Greenwald's journalistic reporting and analysis on national security issues. He is one of the very best. His unsolicited endorsement of my candidacy for the U.S. Senate means a lot to me.

DarkSarcasm13 karma

What meaningful changes would you institute to better protect whistleblowers against unfair retribution?

rushholt45 karma

In the intelligence community, whistleblowers have no protection whatsoever and it is there that whistleblowers are needed more than anywhere else in the government. Under the cloak of secrecy, waste, fraud, abuse, unconstitutional or illegal behavior may never come to light because there is no public review possible. I continue to push for whistleblower protection for workers in the intelligence community.

whathappenedtosmbc12 karma

How and why did you make the phase transition to politics/public service?

Any advice for a current grad student in physics interested in getting involved in public service?

rushholt28 karma

From my earliest memories I have been interested in how the world works -- that's science -- and how people get along -- that's politics. I never saw any incompatibility between them. For years after my father, a politician, died when I was in grade school I continued to run into complete strangers who would tell me how much he helped them and how much it meant to them to have such a forthright person serving them. This was a powerful lesson for a young person, that through politics you can help people.

As for advice, one of the things I have done with undergraduate and graduate students is set up informal public policy discussion seminars, meeting, say, weekly, to discuss and learn about the social and public implications of science and technology. That, for many of my students, has led to political involvement and application of their science training.


Do you ever feel that public opinion among your constituents on a legislative issue is just plain wrong?

rushholt25 karma

It's my job as a representative of the people to try to extract from them their values concerning what is important. We can't expect to vote on the basis of specific requests or opinion polls or general opinion about individual pieces of legislation. Rather I try to learn the relative importance that my constituents put on spending their money on school lunches for hungry kids, space exploration, or highway safety -- or the thousands of other things in the public sphere.

machagogo11 karma

I have contacted your office many times regarding many topics via letters and your website. Most of the time the response is a well written non-answer. Usually just a retelling of the situation, and that you will be 'following the matter closely.' I understand that you personally cannot attend to every message you receive, but can you please ask your staff to actually answer your constituents concerns with details of what your actual position on the matter is?

rushholt41 karma

Those answers you've received are my answers, not my staff's answers. I don't duck questions. Whenever I have the understanding of an issue to give a specific answer I do. Sometimes the issues do require "following them closely" to determine the right answer. I think the many thousands of my constituents will vouch for the fact that I answer the mail specifically and I don't waffle in my answers. Please keep writing and stay in touch: I need to hear from you and your neighbors in order to do my job.

jamjim23219 karma

Tastee Sub or Hoagie Haven? (The right answer is Tastee)

rushholt15 karma

If you say so!

patricksaurus7 karma

Do you consider the implementation of virial theorem to galactic rotation curves to have the most profound implications of all of its applications in the physical sciences?

Seriously though, you have been a leading voice on science in the public square since at least since the Intelligent Design debacle began in 2005 when I became aware of you, and I thank you for that. I'd love the chance to vote for you.

rushholt14 karma

On the galactic rotation curves, Vera Rubin, the first "observer" of dark matter, has long been a hero of mine.

goldism7 karma

Thank you for doing this sir. I am an NJ voter and have been trying to recruit my friends to your corner. This will only help.

Good luck to you!

rushholt11 karma

Thanks! I welcome volunteers in my effort to identify and turn out voters - visit for more details and to sign up to help.

d0uble0h6 karma

Can you help get NASA more money? I mean, one or two billion dollars out of the defense budget oughta help.

rushholt9 karma

We are spending perhaps $100 billion to preserve the Pentagon programs of the Cold War which you may recall is long since over. These are not making us safer and although they do create jobs in the defense industry we would probably do better to shift those jobs to the fields of space, transportation, telecommunications, and energy. An example is the F-35 fighter.

connor_shaw4 karma

What is your stance on financial regulation? Do you support reintroducing protections similar to those repealed from the Glass-Steagall act?

rushholt4 karma

The answer is yes. There are provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial reform that were intended to be sufficient but I now believe they are not sufficient. I also think that we should have a speculation tax ( ) to curb the lightening fast computer trading that rewards speculators at the expense of long-term investors and that contributes to market instabilities. And the speculation tax would raise a considerable amount of money that could be used for education, investment in science and infrastructure and other beneficial purposes.

pandakat3 karma

Hello Congressman Holt,

I am a physicist with a MS degree currently working on my PhD in neutrino physics. I also have a strong desire to be involved with governing. Do you have any advice for a young physicist who someday may want to hold public office at either the local, state, or national level? What do you wish you had known before leaving academia and entering public service?


rushholt3 karma

An excellent route to policy work is the Congressional Science Fellowship Program sponsored by the American Physical Society and many other scientific societies and operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I was a AAAS fellow and it was one of the most important steps in my career.

Possibly of interest - I was endorsed in my bid for the Senate by 65 leading scientists including 7 Nobel laureates. More details here: