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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science and the U.S. Election

A campaign loss for science writer Carl Zimmer's dad

Quick: How many top science writers were spotted standing behind a Republican Senate candidate during a concession speech last night?

Only one, as far as we know: Carl Zimmer.

If you were watching News 12 in New Jersey last night, you would have seen Carl holding his daughter as his father, former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer, conceded to incumbent Sen. Frank Lautenberg after a 55 percent to 43 percent vote.

Dick Zimmer, 64, campaigned against 84-year-old Lautenberg on a platform of energy conservation and greater efficiency standards for cars and SUVs. He also supported increased nuclear power and energy exploration on public lands.

Zimmer was a member of both the House Environment Subcommittee and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology from 1991-94, where he opposed public funding of the International Space Station.

He also wrote legislation requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to explain how it would use taxpayer money for its risk assessments, which was incorporated into the 1996 amendments to the Clean Water Act. Zimmer vacated his seat that year to make what turned out to be his first unsuccessful Senate bid.

Papa Zimmer — a budding chemist before focusing on political science in college — says the younger Zimmer has helped shape his thinking on science-policy debates including stem-cell research and the teaching of evolution. Carl Zimmer, a blogger over at Discover, published Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea in 2001.

With the exception of evolution, Carl has mostly stayed out of this season's science debates. He did note Republican veep candidate Sarah Palin's trashing of fruit fly research, noting that the work has led to pest control for U.S. crops. And he enjoyed hearing about George Washington's passion for chemistry.

"We've talked about intelligent design and what should be taught in the schools," Dick Zimmer told ScientificAmerican.com today. "That didn’t play much of a role in the campaign, though I was concerned that Carl's writings might be used against me by conservative opponents to get them to vote for them instead of me.

"I respect the faith of people who believe the biblical account of creation, and there are places where it should be taught, such as comparative religion, but it should not be taught in science class because science class is about the application of scientific method, which can't be applied to prove or disprove intelligent design or creationism," he says.

Zimmer, who supports some abortion rights, says he diverges with conservative factions of the GOP on stem-cell research, having discussed the issue with his son. "I've talked to him about embryonic stem-cell research and whether it's necessary for the kinds of work that's being done and whether adult stem cells could do the job," Zimmer says. "He's told me at this stage in the development of science, it's still necessary."

We tried to get the younger Zimmer’s thoughts on his dad’s campaign, but he declined to comment today on his pop's race or on the prominence science issues have had in the presidential campaign, saying it would be inappropriate to do so as a journalist.

(Image of Carl Zimmer via WikiPedia Commons/Ragesoss)

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