Congress is in charge of the federal budget. That is a constitutional reality. However, since members of Congress are elected and elections are, well, political, the federal budget is a political artifact. And this is often bad news for science.

It all started with William Proxmire. I still run into people now and then who extol Proxmire’s virtues when it comes to making government more responsible, but they are not remembering correctly. What Proxmire did was this: His staff would comb through federally funded science project grants looking for names of projects that could be made to look silly or wasteful, regardless of the actual value of the project, and thus circumvent the already in place process of grant review and funding. He’d take these grant titles to the floor of the Senate and make fun of the scientists. This was one of the first major steps in the degradation of respect for science that now plague us and that has become a clear and present danger for the health of our society and our planet.

And Congress continues to carry out these shennaigas, throwing science under the bus for shor term political gain as needed. And no, I’m not saying that science does not need to have watchdogs keeping an eye on things. But I am saying that Congress as a body and most members of congress as individuals lack the maturity or sense of responsibility to our nation to manage this job properly.

There is an interesting piece on NPR discussing the most recent round of anti-science ranting. You’ve heard of the “Shrimp on a Treadmill” maneno:

Take the case of the “shrimp on a treadmill.” Burnett says the senator’s report linked that work to a half-million-dollar research grant. But that money actually went to a lot of different research that he and his colleagues did on this economically important seafood species.

The treadmills were just a small part of it, a way to measure how shrimp respond to changes in water quality. Burnett says the first treadmill was built by a colleague from scraps and was basically free, and the second was fancier and cost about $1,000. The senator’s report was misleading…

source

Please have a look at the piece. And, if you have a minute, call or email your congresspeople and let them know that they should not engage in this senseless game playing.

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    August 27, 2011

    Having been employed in an agency that received two golden fleece awards, I have some familiarity with the process. In some fairness to the late Senator Proxmire, before issuing the “award”, a member of his staff would call the individual listed as being in charge of the study and give him/her a chance to defend it. Today, this is no longer the case as the anti-science clowns in Congress have no interest in what the person in charge has to say for himself/herself.

  2. #2 John Huey
    August 27, 2011

    I remember one of the Golden Fleece Awards going to a study of why butterfly wings are so colorful. Proxmire thought that such a study was just ridiculous and completely useless. Well, several years later the results of that study went into making the reflective paint on roads much better.

    Again, here we have a basic science question that on the surface has no particular usefulness, other that to let us understand the world better, that ends up having a practical application that makes the world safer.

    Has someone reviewed all the GFA studies to see how many of them lead to useful applications?

  3. #3 Fred Magyar
    August 27, 2011

    Congress is in charge of the federal budget. That is a constitutional reality.

    And here is the consequence of that reality!

    http://www.wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/

    One of the best info graphics I’ve ever seen!

    A picture that’s worth multiple trillions of words…

  4. #4 Jesse
    August 28, 2011

    The one about toenail clippings was pretty funny because evidently the Congresscritter’s staff wasn’t aware that your fingernails toenails and hair carry what is essentially a record of your exposure to many chemicals, including nicotine and drugs.

    I want to know what happened if the reporter pointed this out. But maybe that’s too much to hope for.

    I dunno, sometimes I am in the camp of “you get the government you deserve.” Then I realize that every one of these anti-science Congressmen stands for things that would make us into a semi-fascist nation.

  5. #5 Artor
    August 28, 2011

    Bobby Jindal tried his hand at this a few years ago and failed miserably. “Who needs to spend X-million dollars on ‘volcano monitoring’? *snark*” 2 weeks before the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland went off and disrupted air traffic patterns over a couple continents. Unfortunately for us, not every Teabagging congressman is as unfortunate as Jindal.

  6. #6 Melody Kohut
    August 28, 2011

    With this attitude, why not fire all mathematicians? I mean, abstract concepts with so much jargon most people have no idea what a given paper is even talking about. It’s not like abstract maths has ever yielded practical applications.

  7. #7 dogmatichaos
    August 28, 2011

    I remember very well hearing about the supposed “shrimp on a treadmill” while listening to talk radio. My one thought was: “why am I 99.99% certain there’s much more to the story than what you seem to be making out.”

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