By Eric Berger
The political attack ad lunged straight for the jugular. In seeking to unseat Republican incumbent John Culberson from the House of Representatives, a pro-Democratic political action committee advertisement sneered at his enthusiasm for science and passion for finding life on another world for the first time.
“He wanted NASA to search for aliens on Europa, an icy moon millions of miles away,” the narrator said. “For Houston, Lizzie Fletcher will invest in humans, not aliens.”
The non-partisan Planetary Society condemned the advertisement as anti-science. “This dismissal of a scientifically valid area of study—one that could potentially reshape entire fields of science—should be roundly rejected by any citizen committed to a modern scientific society, regardless of political affiliation,” the organization’s chief advocate, Casey Dreier, argued.
It was to no avail. On election night in 2018, Houston lawyer and nascent politician Lizzie Fletcher soundly defeated Culberson by five points in what had been a traditionally Republican district. After 18 years in the House, Culberson, a conservative who had achieved enough seniority to chair the subcommittee that sets NASA’s budget, drowned beneath a blue wave.
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