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…
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.