New OTA site

The archived reports of the OTA are on a new site hosted by the Federation of American Scientists.

You may remember that we’re big fans of the OTA as we feel that scientific assessment of government policy and guidance of legislation is key to having an efficacious, informed congress. In our initial post on the OTA we said:

It used to be, for about 20 years (from 1974 to 1995), there was an office on the Hill, named the Office of Technology Assessment, which worked for the legislative branch and provided non-partisan scientific reports relevant to policy discussions. It was a critical office, one that through thorough and complete analysis of the scientific literature gave politicians common facts from which to decide policy debates. In 1994, with the new Republican congress, the office was eliminated for the sake of budget cuts, but the cost in terms of damage to the quality of scientific debate on policy has been incalculable. Chris Mooney described it as Congress engaging in “a stunning act of self-lobotomy” in his book the Republican War on Science (RWOS at Amazon).

The fact of the matter is that our government is currently operating without any real scientific analysis of policy. Any member can introduce whatever set of facts they want, by employing some crank think tank to cherry-pick the scientific literature to suit any ideological agenda. This is truly should be a non-partisan issue. Everybody should want the government to be operating from one set of facts, ideally facts investigated by an independent body within the congress that is fiercely non-partisan, to set the bounds of legitimate debate. Everybody should want policy and policy debates to be based upon sound scientific ground. Everybody should want evidence-based government.

One of the leading advocates of restoring the OTA, Rush Holt, has a video up explaining why he thinks the OTA is important:

I’m glad to see that within the government there are those who still think this is an important issue, and the possibility of bringing science back within the halls of government is still a very real possibility.

Comments

  1. #1 Oldfart
    August 1, 2008

    Science is so rarely on the side of the Right Wing in this country that they have come to believe that Science is a liberal plot and strive to eliminate it as a threat.

  2. #2 Chuck
    August 1, 2008

    Science is bipartisan. How do you think “Big Oil” and “Big Pharma” got “Big” in the first place? By randomly digging holes and eating moldy bread to cure infections?

  3. #3 Robert Ward
    August 1, 2008

    @Chuck – Science should be bipartisan. But Oldfart’s right that many on the far Right Wing believe that science is out to get them with its scary “facts”, “theories”, and “information”. Mainly because often science proves them and their cherished beliefs wrong (eg. Creationism). They are unwilling to change, scientists generally are more willing.

    Many on the Right see such willingness to change when new evidence is presented as a weakness of science rather than one of its main strengths. Why do you think the “flip-flopper” attack worked so well against Kerry?

  4. #4 Chuck
    August 1, 2008

    “Why do you think the “flip-flopper” attack worked so well against Kerry?”

    Because the far left felt that was an admirable quality in a president and the general electorate disagreed with them at the polls.

  5. #5 MarkH
    August 1, 2008

    Both conservatives and liberals have atrociously inaccurate views of science. However, conservative anti-science views tend to be more morally despicable and hard to tolerate on a national level.

    For instance, on the environment, the left might be a bit loony, technophobic, anti-GM etc., but the right denies there are any problems at all. One is mostly just annoying, the other is potentially dangerous.

    On biology the left is more supportive of silly hippy earth mother gaia crystal nonsense and animal rights hypocrisy, annoying and with the exception of ARAs, mostly harmless. On the right we have creationist drivel and an attempt to undermine science itself with religious indoctrination. Here the two are almost equal I would say and I believe ARAs to be a greater threat to science than creationists, especially in the long run.

    On other issues, like homosexuality, the right abuses science to promote bigotry and intolerance. For birth control they use scaremongering to try to discourage abortion, birth control and condom use etc.

    Both sides have an equal number of twits who don’t understand science. The right’s take is just more visible because it’s directly interfering with people’s lives (contraception, social issues, education, the environment). The left’s stuff is generally (generally!) more innocuous.

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