Respectful Insolence

Even though I was only in junior high and high school back in the 1970s, because I was already turning into a science geek I remember Senator William Proxmire (D-WI). In particular, I remember his Golden Fleece awards. These were “awards” designed to highlight what he saw as wasteful government spending, targeting, for instance, the use of taxpayer funds to fly over 1,000 officers to a reunion of the Tailhook Association or financing the construction of an 800- foot limestone replica of the Great Wall of China in Bedford, Indiana. Others, although they sounded on the surface to be wasteful, actually might not have been.

Later, as I went to college and medical school, I started to realize that when the Golden Fleece Awards were “awarded” to science projects they frequently betrayed a profound ignorance of science. What they did, more than anything else, was to take cheap shots at worthy scientific projects that could easily be made to sound ridiculous to the scientifically ignorant. In other words, when it came to science the Golden Fleece Awards were anti-intellectual and anti-science to the core, more akin to demagoguery than anything else. Examples abound and include the infamous Golden Fleece given to what Proxmire dismissively referred to as “tequila fish” research (which, by the way, was also Proxmire’s favorite Golden Fleece Award of all). The “award” was given to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1975 because it funded a grant to a researcher to study, among other things, whether drunken fish are more aggressive than sober fish, whether young rats are more likely than adult rats to drink booze in order to reduce anxiety, and whether rats can be systematically turned into alcoholics. It’s a project that sounds ridiculous on the surface but in reality to most scientists would sound like important research into alcoholism using animal models. Other examples of abuse of science by Proxmire’s “award” included a National Science Foundation grant to investigate the importance of social justice and equity in romantic exchanges, another study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse to study the effects of marijuana on sexual arousal, and a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health in 1978 to study comparing the amount of food eaten by obese and normal weight people ordering from a menu compared to going to a buffet. In light of the “obesity” epidemic this nation has experienced over the last 30 years, this last bit of research seems downright prescient.

Be that as it may, although the Golden Fleece Award ruthlessly mocked whatever Proxmire’s staff perceived to be government waste, often when such projects were examined more closely it turns out that there were very good reasons for them. In particular, when it came to science projects, Proxmire’s awards misfired big time far more often than they were on target, such as his bestowing upon the Environmental Protection Agency for funding a study in Vermont in 1978 to determine whether runoff from open stacks of cow manure was the cause of pollution in nearby streams and ponds. In other words, it’s whipping science in the name of politics, and it’s something that, from time to time, politicians of all political stripes have done. “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” It’s the Eternal Return all over again.

Of course, the Eternal Return doesn’t necessarily mean that all this will happen again exactly the same way. Consistent with that, the Golden Fleece Award appears to have been reborn, only this time in an more brain dead form that consists of an explicitly political attack on the National Science Foundation. As reported in Science and on LiveScience and commented on by several bloggers, including Mike the Mad Biologist, Steve Silberman, namnezia, Neurodojo, and the Prodigal Academic, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has produced a 73-page report entitled The National Science Foundation Under the Microscope. Coburn’s report lambastes the NSF for alleged culture of waste, fraud, and mismanagement. Before I get into the utter idiocy that makes up much of this report, I can’t help but point out that the NSF, as mentioned in the preamble of this report, has a budget of $6.9 billion a year, and Sen. Coburn is very, very concerned that the President proposes to increase its budget by $1 billion, intoning ominously in the preamble:

The President’s proposed budget for this year would increase NSF funding by nearly $1 billion–a 13 percent increase–a significant increase at a time of record deficits. In 2007 and 2010, Congress overwhelmingly passed and reauthorized the America COMPETES Act (Public Law 110-69) which would double NSF funding over seven years. This dramatic increase in spending passed with little debate or dissent.

The theory in Washington all too often tends to be if you throw enough money at a problem, you can solve all our nation’s problems. But when Congress commits the nation to significant increases in spending, Congress owes it to the U.S. taxpayers to pay careful attention to how those dollars are being spent.

Unless, of course, we’re talking about the real money spent by government, such as the defense budget or many entitlements. In reality, the entire NSF budget could be quite comfortably accommodated within rounding errors in budgets of the Pentagon and various entitlement programs (which are, of course, where the real money is spent by the federal government); yet Coburn is shocked and dismayed that President Obama might want to increase its budget, even though the proposed FY 2012 NSF budget represents approximately 0.2% of the $3.7 trillion federal budget. Lots of savings to be had there! We can really reduce the deficit by eliminating waste at the NSF, can’t we? If we eliminated the entire NSF, we’d decrease the FY 2012 federal deficit by maybe 0.6%. Woo-hoo!

Coburn then states:

Very few of the proposals submitted for NSF financial support represented transformative scientific research according to most grant reviewers surveyed. Taxpayers may also question the value of many of the projects NSF actually chose to fund, such as: How to ride a bike; When did dogs became man’s best friend; If political views are genetically pre-determined; How to improve the quality of wine; Do boys like to play with trucks and girls like to play with dolls; How rumors get started; If parents choose trendy baby names; How much housework does a husband create for a wife; and When is the best time to buy a ticket to a sold out sporting event.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about too many of the specific projects Coburn criticizes, Proxmire-like in silliness, pontification, and political grandstanding (well, maybe one or two), because, for instance, Steve Silberman does it well, as does Todd Gureckis, who was surprised to find himself on Coburn’s list of “frivolous” research projects and points out the numerous errors in the description of just his research in Coburn’s report, which describes it thusly:

Armed with a $1 million grant from the NSF, researchers at Indian University-Bloomington and New York University analyzed baby names to determine trends in parents’ naming decisions.130 Their conclusion: popular names are popular with parents.

The new research “suggests that parents in the USA seem to prefer baby names that have risen in popularity, rather than those that have been popular for a while and may be on the way out.”131 The researchers were quoted claiming the study as “relevant to understanding how people’s everyday decisions are influenced by aggregate cultural processes.”132 In other words, they wanted to confirm that Americans do, indeed, tend to follow trends.

New parents and social scientists do not exactly need to look very hard to see trends in baby names. In addition to many familiar baby name books, a simple google search of “baby name trends” yields 721,000 results, including websites such as nametrends.net, babynames.com, and babynamestats.com. On babynamestats.com, you can easily find data on naming trends over the last century.

Gureckis responds (in part, his entire response is worth reading):

Had those developing this report actually looked at the research paper they were criticizing, they would know that we were not specifically interested in baby names except in so far as they offer a unique opportunity for studying such the impact of social influence on decision making. We all know that iPhones are popular but the underlying reasons for this cultural success is distorted by the role that advertising budgets and existing computer technologies play in determining which ideas win out and which die off in the consumer marketplace. In contrast, the popularity of names is more organically determined by processes of social influence (there is no company out there trying to convince you to name you child something in particular). Baby names thus represent an important and relatively “pure” empirical test of theories of cultural transmission and social influence in large groups.

The Coburn report makes it seem as though this research spent money to determine the frequency and popularity of names. Fortunately, this data was provided for free by the Social Security Administration which has recorded and published the most popular baby names in the United States since the 1880s (freely available here: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/). Many of the popular websites that analyze naming trends rely on the same data source. Any NSF funds used toward this effort paid exclusively for the statistical/mathematical analysis of this data. In fact, in the context of a discussion about government waste, this is a great example of government efficiency since data collected for one purpose (issuing social security cards), which would have been very expensive to collect otherwise, turns out to be very useful to NSF and NIH supported peer-reviewed science.

This is just one example, and I just realized that I went into one example in detail. Oh, well. Mea culpa. It was just too juicy to resist.

More interesting to me is the criticism that permeates the Coburn report that very little of what the NSF funds is “transformative” research. Indeed, he has a whole section on the sorts of “trasnformative” research that the NSF has funded in the past (p.8 of his report). Examples over the last 30 or 40 years include:

  1. The Internet. The report duly notes, was involved in developing early Internet technologies through efforts that included “NSFNET.” By the 1980s, the primary funding for Internet development had been assumed by the NSF.
  2. Buckyballs. A form of “carbon-composed clusters” bonded in a polyhedral that have similarities to the surface of a soccer ball and were developed in 1985 by NSF-funded researchers.
  3. Magnetic resonance imaging. It’s hard to imagine how I would do my job as a breast surgeon without MRI, and MRI is used widely to image the spine, brain, and many other anatomic structures without the use of ionizing radiation.
  4. Bar codes. Again, it’s hard to imagine life without bar code scanners, so ubiquitous have they become.
  5. Cloud computing. The report notes, “In 2007, NSF partnered with IBM and Google to provide computer science students with the necessary skills to develop “cloud computing” applications. Cloud computing is Internet-based–rather than hardware computing–that allows shared resources, software, and information provided to computers and other devices on demand, in a manner similar to an electricity grid. NSF created the Cluster Exploratory Initiative in 2008 to provide researchers access to software and services on the Google-IBM cluster.
  6. Retinal prostheses. The report references NSF-funded work on retinal prostheses, which could lead to therapies to restore some level of eyesight to the blind.

Quite frankly, given how small the budget of the NSF is, these projects alone represent quite an impressive list of “transformative” research projects, and this is but a sampling of the sort of science and technology projects that have been funded over the years by the NSF. Unfortunately, from this Coburn derives an utterly ridiculous standard for funding scientific research:

These projects provide a contrast to the wasteful and frivolous research projects highlighted in this report–and show the consequences of using limited dollars on low-priority grants. These projects represent good examples transformative science that will change our understanding of important scientific concepts. These research efforts are important scientific ideas that transcend the whims of individual researchers or federal government bureaucrats. And these investments were appropriate expenditures of federal funds.

Real, transformative research should be the standard for all NSF supported projects. Recognizing that all scientific endeavors do not result in the intended outcome, NSF investments can advance knowledge and in many cases improve the human condition rather than simply satisfying the random curiosities of some researchers.

Later (p.52), it is proposed:

And while evaluating the overall quality of grant application should remain in the hands of scientists with clear NSF guidance, scientists, agency officials, policymakers, and taxpayers should all be able to agree any research receiving federal funds should be able to affirmatively answer each of the following questions:

  • Does this research represent science that could significantly change our understanding of important scientific concepts?
  • Does the subject of this study represent an important scientific idea rather than the whimsy of individual researchers?
  • Is this study an appropriate expenditure of federal funds at a time when the U.S. national debt is nearly $14 trillion?

Here’s the problem with so-called “transformative research.” There’s no good way to recognize in advance which specific lines of research will be “tranformative.” In other words, we don’t know which research is truly “transformative” until after it has been done, after the results are known, and after the effects of the results on science, technology, and society can be assessed. Back in 1985, for example, when NSFNET was born and later began to be linked to other networks, no one had any real idea that in 2011 the Internet would be so central to our everyday life and that we would would be using it to communicate by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs; to transmit entertainment in the form of music and movies; and to do so many financial transactions, to name just a few ways that the Internet has become essential to everyday activities in developed countries. When MRIs were developed from the spectroscopy technique used to study the structures of organic molecules (nuclear magnetic resonance), no one could have been sure that it would be superior to CT scans for many applications or that it would become so ubiquitous so quickly. Ditto bar codes. To boil it all down, requiring that any funded research be “transformative” is utter nonsense, because scientific peer review can’t easily recognize research that is truly transformative before it’s done. Most projects fail; that’s how science works. Some succeed, and from those will come a very small number of truly transformative research projects. In other words, if we could reliably predict which lines of research would be truly transformative, we almost wouldn’t need to to the research itself. What we can do is to fund the best and most creative science that we can, knowing that our ability to recognize what will and won’t be transformative ahead of time is highly unreliable, and then let the chips fall where they may.

Come to think of it, this criticism by Coburn reminds me of criticism of the National Cancer Institute that it’s “playing it too safe” and as a result we haven’t cured cancer yet. Eternal Return be praised! Everything old is new again. Such complaints tend to be made in the absence of any hard evidence that (1) innovative ideas don’t eventually earn funding and (2) that funding “riskier” (or, in this case, “transformative”) ideas will inevitably lead to more home runs in research. Moreover, it’s incredibly rare that any single study will be “transformative” in and of itself. Individual studies are pieces of a puzzle, the picture made by which could ultimately turn out to be transformative. You can’t tell from individual pieces, though.

I also couldn’t help but notice that Coburn’s office appears not to have bothered to read the NSF’s very own review criteria, which focus on two key questions:

  • What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?
  • What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

I also can’t help but note that, under the question of the intellectual merit of submitted research proposals, the NSF asks, “To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?” (Emphasis mine.) Yes, the word “transformative” is right there in the NSF guidelines! It’s already an important criterion used by peer reviewers evaluating grant applications. Seriously, Coburn should peruse the NSF website before laying down such ignorance.

Of course, the real reason behind this attack is not to improve research at the NSF. The smear tactics used, in which Coburn criticizes the NSF because at the NSF research station McMurdo in Anarctica researchers had a Jello wrestling event. He also notes that the employee who arranged the Jello wrestle was fired. So what’s the problem? Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when someone screws up badly enough? Apparently not to Coburn, who uses the incident an excuse to show a picture of Jello wrestling and to imply that NSF-funded investigators and employees are doing nothing with your tax dollars all day other than Jello wrestling, skinny dipping, perusing online porn, and jetting away for romantic getaways. I’m not saying that oversight shouldn’t be such that NSF funds can’t easily be misused, but I am saying that Coburn’s attack is very transparent in its purpose, and that purpose is not to save taxpayers money that will matter one whit in terms of decreasing the deficit.

One criticism in particular is offbase:

The biggest “savings” that Coburn identifies is actually a misreading of federal statutes, according to NSF officials. The report accuses NSF of failing to recover $1.7 billion in “expired grants,” that is, money grantees didn’t spend in the course of doing their research. But that’s not true, says NSF. The number reflects all the money that has been obligated for multiyear grants, and the amount (as of last fall) drops as researchers tap their accounts over the duration of their project. “It’s being used for exactly the purpose for which it was intended,” explains one budget official who requested anonymity.

Only a tiny amount–roughly $30 million a year–is actually left on the table once a researcher has finished his or her project. And that amount is returned each year to the Treasury. “You’d think a U.S. senator would understand how the federal government funds multiyear research projects,” says one lobbyist.

So Coburn doesn’t even know how NSF budgeting for multiyear grants works.

Most telling of all, Coburn proposes eliminating NSF funding for social sciences (p. 53), damning them with faint praise that to “varying degrees, each of these fields represents interesting and–many times–important areas of research and discovery” and then asking, “do any of these social studies represent obvious national priorities that deserve a cut of the same pie as astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, and oceanography?” One can argue over the relative importance of various sciences, but that’s not really what Coburn does. What he does is to take research out of context, cherry picking projects whose names sound silly and representing them as the entire research program, while misrepresenting them in simplistic terms to make them sound even sillier. One suspects that the real reason that Coburn wants to attack social sciences is because its studies might contradict what he think he knows to be true. And to pander to his base. Whatever the reason, he’s done a serious disservice to the NSF and to science in America in general.

Comments

  1. #1 Derek in DC
    June 2, 2011

    Science and politics are an unavoidable, but *reeeeeeeallllly* bad combination.

    http://sciencekick.blogspot.com/2010/12/out-with-old.html

    I think it was in the 90s when members of congress were fond of railing against money for cranberry research as an example of government waste. They cynically relied on no one looking up exactly what the researchers were studying and concluding that perhaps it’s a good idea to know more about proanthocyanidins and how we might use them.

  2. #2 Marry Me, Mindy
    June 2, 2011

    Money in expired grants: not only do you have multi-years, it is possible to get extensions. I just did my no-cost extension request yesterday to give it an extra month.

  3. #3 Marry Me, Mindy
    June 2, 2011

    BTW, some of the proposed NSF budget increase is going into “personal” awards. Things like the Graduate Fellowships. They recently increased their numbers from 1000 to 2000, and Obama proposed making it 3000.

    These are two year awards. That 1000 increase alone costs something like $100 million. That’s like 10% going into a single program that has nothing to do with any projects.

  4. #4 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    I’m short of a few $ myself. I wonder where it’s all going?

    Go back the the pre-imperial system! Apples per Lb of flesh works well for any science at the macroscopic level.

  5. #5 Michael
    June 2, 2011

    Politicians do seem to think that all our problems will be solved if we just fund the right projects. I’ve heard people say that AIDS could have been cured by now if AIDS research had enough funding or the money had gone to the right research. Of course, it’s not that simple in real life.

  6. #6 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    Autism is 1%

    Any money and numbers you put are 1% belong to us.

  7. #7 Greg Fish
    June 2, 2011

    This is what happens when people big on talk, low on any sort of expertise, and given a position of power decide to take a peek into the world of those who are actual experts on some subject matter. I especially find the notion of cloud computing to be somehow transformative when it was really an evolution of concepts first popularized during the late 90′s dot com boom as more and more people made the browser the most important application on a computer. But hey, facts shouldn’t interfere with a politician’s narrative, right?

    Here’s the thing. When you’re involved in something that takes a lot of specialized training and experience to do, very few people will be able to understand what it is you actually do for a living. One of my friends is an industrial designer. I can see the results of his work but all the steps in between his first sketches and final products are a fuzzy mystery to me. And though my friends know I work with computers, they often have no idea what it entails. To them, I just open a weird looking screen, type in some gibberish and the computer suddenly starts doing something.

    So without knowing what it is that an expert actually does and why, how can politicians suimply decide what’s wasteful and what’s not in terms of science? Because they don’t like those eggheads and nerds? Because they want to stoke cheap populism lead by people who don’t even know how much the government spends and on what? Is it just plain ignorance of someone who thinks that by virtue of having power, he’s now right about everything (a phenomenon that the social sciences showed extant in many studies) and assumes he has the expertise to gauge the work of researchers? A combination of all these? These aren’t rhetorical questions by the way, I’m really curious.

    On a fun side note, I’m sure you know that if the NSF gave money to computer scientists to build new generations of armed drones intended to carry out bombing campaigns from an aircraft carrier or a remote base in the middle of a desert, senators would be tripping over themselves to give billions for such projects and argue that they’re absolutely necessary for the nation’s survival because they would hit all the right buzzwords: drone, military, force projection, and national security. It’s not that this sort of thing wouldn’t have any practial civilian applications or wouldn’t be of real merit, but it’s just sad that it’s getting ever harder and more tedious to fund science outside of a military context…

  8. #8 Greg Fish
    June 2, 2011

    I especially find the notion of cloud computing to be somehow transformative…

    … was supposed to read: “I especially find it funny that Colburn would find the notion of cloud computing to be somehow transformative.”

  9. #9 LW
    June 2, 2011

    Jacob, I don’t wish to be unkind, but do you honestly believe that you are — absolutely nothing — but your autism?

    You have a body. That body, like mine, like everyone’s, could potentially get cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or any of a number of other diseases that are studied. You benefit from such non-autism-focused research every bit as much as someone who is not autistic.

    You live in a dwelling. It presumably has electricity. You probably leave it now and then and probably need some kind of transportation. You use the Internet. Any research that allows more energy with less pollution, that improves computer hardware and software, that improves traffic flow, benefits you every bit as much as someone who is not autistic.

    You have to eat. Research that improves food, makes it safer, more healthful, and more abundant, while reducing the associated pollution, benefits you every bit as much as someone who is not autistic.

    In other word, try to look outside your autism now and then.

  10. #10 JohnV
    June 2, 2011

    Hey Jacob what the hell are you talking about?

  11. #11 Andrew
    June 2, 2011

    This reminds me of an anecdote about Micheal Faraday,

    Important Woman-what use is Electricity, Mr Fareday?

    Micheal Faraday- What use is a new baby, madam?

  12. #12 Beamup
    June 2, 2011

    There’s another major reason Coburn is completely and utterly wrong, which isn’t discussed in the post.

    Namely, the “transformational” research never stands alone. Inevitably it builds on a pre-existing knowledge base. You know, the knowledge base that was generated by all those other “wasteful” studies.

    If only transformational research took place, NO research would take place because the transformational is completely reliant on the basic!

    Gotta love it when people start spouting off about subjects where they have less than zero understanding.

  13. #13 Calli Arcale
    June 2, 2011

    Michael @ 5:
    Politicians do seem to think that all our problems will be solved if we just fund the right projects. I’ve heard people say that AIDS could have been cured by now if AIDS research had enough funding or the money had gone to the right research. Of course, it’s not that simple in real life.

    Well, actually this is true. The problem is that we don’t know what the right research is. If we did, we’d already know the cure and wouldn’t need the research at all. Or, to put it another way, you only win a marathon in the last foot of the race, but you can’t get there without first running the preceding 26 miles.

    I’ve been fighting comments on other forums that betray a mindset very similar to Coburn, only they’re talking about spaceflight. “What’s the Shuttle done other than kill fourteen people?” That’s right — thirty years of reusable spaceflight, and the only thing people noticed was the two tragedies which occurred. They didn’t notice anything else. And the number of people who substitute assumptions for actually reading anything about the space program amazes me. I encountered one fellow convinced it was just a liberal equal-opportunity token minority thing, who commented on an article about STS-134 (which just landed yesterday) that every mission has to have at least one black and one or two women. STS-134 had a 100% white male crew, so obviously he didn’t even take the time to learn anything at all about the current crew, so secure was he in his preconceptions.

    The same thing happens throughout science. People who believe science to be wasteful namby-pampy useless research by ivory tower elitists will not even bother to find out what scientists are actually up to. They will substitute rumor and assumption. Why they do this is self-evident: they do not understand the value in testing one’s preconceptions, and thus do not understand the point of science. If it turns out useful widgets, great! Otherwise, what’s the point? We already know people get fat from eating too much; why do we need to study how people eat at buffets versus sit-down restaurants? They honestly do not understand why this study could be useful. They have a preconception, and it seems to work well enough; they lack the curiosity to go any further.

    And then they go and prattle on about transformational research. People like this wouldn’t know transformational research if it came and bit them on their behinds. They just want new widgets.

  14. #14 passionlessDrone
    June 2, 2011

    Hello friends –

    The Democrats are not without their very substantial problems, but this type of idiocy comes from Republicans because it speaks to large swaths of their simple minded base. It is reminiscent of Sarah Palins talks on fruit fly research in the past election cycle, to which she received cheers from the idiots. Their beliefs regarding how much we can cut ‘waste’ to balance the budget is a triumph of belief over addition. These people are dangerous.

    Very nice post, Orac. Thank you.

    - pD

  15. #15 JayK
    June 2, 2011

    This isn’t Coburn’s (Cobag) first date with science. This has been explained to him many many times, but he keeps going back to this trough and looking for more votes from his anti-intellectual base. This is the golden goose for him, he has nothing else except for his pandering.

    And I thought Jacob was going to go run away so he could be high and not have to be criticized for sucking all of the life out of threads? Not only did he lie about being “brain wave” assessed as autistic (no such test exists) but now he lies about running away and not coming back? What the heck?

  16. #16 Dr Sam Girgis
    June 2, 2011

    Why is a non-scientist judging scientists and their scientific work to determine which projects are worthy of funding? The job of judging research projects and whether they deserve continued or initial funding should be left to other scientist in the same field. Politicians should stick to the politics, and leave science to the scientists.

    Dr Sam Girgis
    http://drsamgirgis.com

  17. #17 Denice Walter
    June 2, 2011

    A few notes on Senator Coburn: born in 1948, he was elected to the House during the “Republic Revolution” of 1994; being considered amongst the most conservative members, he often critiqued Gingrich’s increasing centrism. As a “free-market”**, fiscal conservative, he strongly opposes “pork barrel” spending and “special interests”**. In addition,as a member of the “Family” and a Baptist, he espouses conservative religious-based views on social policy.

    Coburn has a degree in accounting. After a bout with malignant melanoma, which was treated successfully, he persued a career in medicine (MD- obstetrician) which he continues despite his congressional duties.

    An advocate of term limits, he will not seek re-election in 2016. He opposes abortion, voted against health care reform (both times),further regulations on tobacco, and gun control. He maintains a friendship with the President despite their policy differences. Committees: Finance, Judiciary, Homeland Security.

    ** translate how you will: what can I say, I’m further left.

  18. #18 Wow
    June 2, 2011

    Maybe Coburn would prefer they did experiments of alcohol poisoning on children rather than young rats, then…?

  19. #19 Denice Walter
    June 2, 2011

    First, let me preface this by saying that I have no qualms with anyone’s religious beliefs- it’s *not* any of my business, _at all_- and that if faith makes a difference in your life- more power to you! I sort of envy you a little. Not enough to change, mind you. Family tradition, and all.

    I’m concerned about how a *particular* set of beliefs might impact large numbers of people across the nation despite their own contrary or absent belief: the Senator’s base are extremely conservative evangelical Christians, as would be likely seeing where he resides. Core attitudes are not focused upon “things of this world “: social policy and social welfare are not their primary agenda. I venture a guess that his state contituency, as well as national supporters of his policy, may include the more radical, endtimes believers as well as libertarians.

    Why should a government put assets into science, research, education, fixing decrepit infrastructure, communications, being carbon-neutral, developing sustainable sources of power, etc. if a huge portion of fellow Christians are on the verge of being swept up into the clouds to met their Lord? Why bother? There is neither cancer nor AGW in heaven: let those left behind fend for themselves. Why take care of people if they’re soon to be in a “better place”? Less radical believers may not be set on the Rapture but insist on self- suffieiency rather than governmental support. I hope that this isn’t true.

  20. #20 Adrian Bejan
    June 2, 2011

    What Sen. Coburn wrote about my work is a total fabrication.

    I never had NSF funding to study “basketball”. The research paper that was in the news (in March 2011) was a student term-paper, written during an evolutionary design course that I teach. It cost exactly ZERO dollars.

    Sen. Coburn’s voluminous and well paid staff never contacted me to ask why the press was writing about our research on natural (rigid) hierarchy, with basketball rankings as one of several examples. So, who is not spending our taxpayers’ money wisely?

    Adrian Bejan
    J. A. Jones Distinguished Professor
    Duke University

  21. #21 Anton P. Nym
    June 2, 2011

    There’s a busted concept of scientific research out there that I can only describe right now in terms of (most) role-playing games. Think of it like grinding for “experience points” in order to level up in a field of study… which naturally leads folks to think of research as a zero-sum game, wherein research in one field naturally deprives another field of progress, and that progress in a field is linear. It’s a terrible way to describe how scientific research really works, but that seems to be the perception out there.

    I think folks more in-the-know on how the NSF works (I R furriner) should talk to the “hoi palloi” about scientific methodology more; once this misconception is dispelled, it’ll be easier to make the case for “weird” research.

    — Steve

  22. #22 Raging Bee
    June 2, 2011

    Very few of the proposals submitted for NSF financial support represented transformative scientific research according to most grant reviewers surveyed.

    Well, DUH, it can’t be “transformative” if it hasn’t been done yet, can it? NOTHING is “transformative” when it’s in the grant-proposal phase.

  23. #23 JayK
    June 2, 2011

    Telling Co-bag that breakthrough research is built up around lots of “nonessential” research is pointless. He doesn’t get it. He wants all research to result in intertubes, robotic attack vehicles and new materials for kitchens so his wife will finally be happy.

  24. #24 Poodle Stomper
    June 2, 2011

    This reminds me of that obnoxious video footage of Sarah Palin making fun of researchers for doing fruit fly research and saying that it doesn’t benefit society. Basically, this is idiots commenting on stuff they don’t understand.

  25. #25 Andrew Middleton
    June 2, 2011

    brilliant. If you want more horror from those hostile to science, check out Representative Frank Guinta’s (R-NH) “Frank’s Fifty” budget cuts that he posted, one per day leading up to the election last November that brought him to power. http://guinta2010.blogspot.com/p/franks-fifty.html
    I met with him this spring and I tried… honestly, I tried. Keep up the good work.

  26. #26 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    Autism is underfunded.

    Are you broken?

  27. #27 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    Actually JayK,

    Some of my responses, and my last reply to ‘you’, did not pass moderation.

    Orac, I believe, will stop anything that I might say that might harm me, I hope?

    Did you check with SBC and Tom Harrison to see If I am a real one or not? Do you need their numbers?

    Why not just use social engineering to find out my status from the welfare department, as you are so obviously sure I am one of their payees ;)

  28. #28 Vicki, Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief
    June 2, 2011

    In what sense is autism underfunded? If you’re claiming that 1% of the population is autistic and therefore 1% of some budget should go to things related to autism, be prepared to allocate 13% of the budget to African-Americans, and 51% to women, and so on. The first thing that happens is that you spend way more than 100% of the budget, because everyone fits into more than one category.

    Chunks of the spending that is useful for autistic people isn’t labeled as such: you don’t have to be neurotypical to benefit from clean air, or to use the Internet, or visit a national park, or collect food stamps, or any number of other things.

    If you’re talking about the medical budget, I would note that a lot of it is spent on fatal or potentially fatal diseases. Yes, there are some weird allocations, especially if you look at the numbers species-wide instead of based on state or national borders: we should be spending more on dealing with parasitic diseases, for starters, and less on cosmetic surgery. But that’s not just because of the number of people suffering from parasites: it’s because of how harmful some of those conditions can be.

  29. #29 Scott Cunningham
    June 2, 2011

    I’ve been seeing this sort of thing in Canada for years. First there was Brian Mulroney’s effort to wed all science funding to the private sector. The idea was only profitable research should be funded, and all future science must be financed by previous profits. I hardly need to say how that panned out. You can’t predict what research will turn out to be imortant. Companies didn’t want to assume the risk. Good research got dropped. In the end they had to pool their money in a third party to distribute funds, and realized, hey, isn’t that a lot like a badly organized tax system?

    One education slashing Conservative provincial government later, we’ve got a Conservative federal government again, and they’re looking at cutting research dollars to help buy billions of dollars in jets and prisons. It’s hard to believe they look at their own dollar figures some days. And this time, I’m in university trying to become a school teacher or scientist. Oh Joy.

    I’m beginning to think I should get a second degree in criminal justice so I can be a cop whenever Conservaives are in power. They publicly puzzle over why the educated classes are mostly against ‘em, while consistantly hammering away at the public schools, University research posts, hospitals and arts funding that employ us, plus musing about making university tuition costs harder to meet and using familiar schoolyard bully tactics to demean our work and marginalize us. Well guys, I think I have an answer for you.

  30. #30 SLC
    June 2, 2011

    Re Adrian Bejan @ #20

    I’m not here to defend the late Senator Proxmire. However, a government agency I was with was awarded twice with Golden fleece awards. However, at least aides to the senator contacted people in the agency to question them about the projects in question before making the “awards”. As Prof. Bejan informs us, Coburns’ entourage did not even make an attempt to contact him for information about the project.

    Besides the know nothings that delight in Coburns’ rantings, the only other “fans” he has are located in China and India, who would be most delighted with a decline in American scientific capabilities.

  31. #31 SLC
    June 2, 2011

    Re Adrian Bejan @ #20

    I’m not here to defend the late Senator Proxmire. However, a government agency I was with was awarded twice with Golden fleece awards. However, at least aides to the senator contacted people in the agency to question them about the projects in question before making the “awards”. As Prof. Bejan informs us, Coburns’ entourage did not even make an attempt to contact him for information about the project.

    Besides the know nothings that delight in Coburns’ rantings, the only other “fans” he has are located in China and India, who would be most delighted with a decline in American scientific capabilities.

  32. #32 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    Fiat Money is not the only currency.

    Autism is underfunded. Find your own numbers, I don’t know what base you’re all counting in, you forgot to specify.

  33. @Jacob:

    All your base are belong to us.

    -Karl Withakay

  34. #34 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    All my merry ham to you too sirn!

    J. Cubb

  35. #35 kermit
    June 2, 2011

    Jacob – yes, autism research is underfunded. So is most scientific research, with the exception of military weaponry and a few others. (One example of seriously underfunded work is climatology. Weather satellites have been slated to take a serious hit in government support, at a time when climate is changing rapidly, and changes in weather adversely affects *everybody.)

    Nobody who is scientifically literate begrudges money offered to researchers in autism and related fields, but the people with control of the money (in the USA, the legislators) are spending it on other things.

  36. #36 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    Stop spending money on stuff that will never work.

    Prohibition of ‘illegal drugs’ is costing YOU $100Bn per year.

    Yes, an extra trip to the fjords. YOU pay, not the druggie or the government. Tax! Crime!

    YOU PAY to put criminals in charge of powerful medicine! Whoops.

    End Prohibition today, profit tomorrow. ALL OF YOU Profit, not just a few bankers, brewers, and po-lice which is the current ‘inequality’ which is keeping the insanity in place. Help please?

  37. #37 Beamup
    June 2, 2011

    While I happen to agree with Jacob on that point, having it argued by someone who’s completely stoned out of their mind is kind of counterproductive.

  38. #38 David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E.
    June 2, 2011

    Jacob,

    Stop behaving like a twat. You’re making us autistic people look fucking stupid!

    And yes, i am fucking serious.

  39. #39 SLC
    June 2, 2011

    Re Adrian Bejan @ #20

    I’m not here to defend the late Senator Proxmire. However, a government agency I was with was awarded twice with Golden fleece awards. However, at least aides to the senator contacted people in the agency to question them about the projects in question before making the “awards”. As Prof. Bejan informs us, Coburns’ entourage did not even make an attempt to contact him for information about the project.

    Besides the know nothings that delight in Coburns’ rantings, the only other “fans” he has are located in China and India, who would be most delighted with a decline in American scientific capabilities.

  40. #40 JayK
    June 2, 2011

    Oh look, the stoned troll has dropped by to advertise the newest version of the Word Salad Shooter. Ronco called, they would like for you to keep your promise and go away, Jacob.

  41. #41 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E.

    and rude!

    Beaumup, I’m, un-medicated at the moment, you are wrong.

    You would also be wrong to suggest that my mental state is the product of substance withdrawal.

    My mental state is the product of oppression, racism, bullying, workplace vibes, being conned out of the money I need to live off from day to day (by very large organisations), all the usual suspects.

    I can beat you at the insensitivity game, my point is, I’m looking for another way so that we don’t have to have a real war.

    Let’s put it another way. Do you want peace, or are you still enjoying your Global Hominid War?

    x

    Have you ever read ‘things fall apart’?

  42. #42 David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E.
    June 2, 2011

    No, Jacob. Just fed up to the back teeth of your inane and stupid comments that suggest that you are far from the autistic spectrum.

    Now, do us all a favour and shut the fuck up. Nobody but a fuckwit would want to hear what you keep opening your metaphorical gob to say.

  43. #43 mhops
    June 2, 2011

    This is hilarious. Pass the popcorn.

  44. #44 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    Are you sitting comfortably and on the correct rung?

  45. #45 Narad
    June 2, 2011

    My mental state is the product of oppression, racism, bullying, workplace vibes, being conned out of the money I need to live off from day to day (by very large organisations), all the usual suspects.

    Thank goodness cannabis is a well-known anxiolytic and deparanoidalizer.

  46. #46 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    Thank goodness cannabis is a well-known anxiolytic and deparanoidalizer. Agreed.

    I’ve not been paranoid for years, and I use yoga for anxiety and depression. I’m not stupid enough to use a psychoactive chemical for that!

    In fact, cannabis isn’t enough for me without the yoga. It takes both to deal with aspergers male.

  47. #47 Rich Woods
    June 2, 2011

    Real, transformative research should be the standard for all NSF supported projects.

    “If I knew what the outcome would be I couldn’t call it research.”

    Bugger! I’ve forgotten who said that now. Sorry.

  48. #48 JayK
    June 2, 2011

    Coburn (Co-bag) should have to account for how much his report cost to produce. How many times has he printed it out because he is afraid of a computer mouse transmitting viruses to his dating hand?

    And how does Co-bag deal with aspergers male? He slaps it with fish and a lemon dill sauce.

  49. #49 Michael Ralston
    June 2, 2011

    I think what scientists being mocked by Coburn need to do is fight mockery with mockery: Invite him to write up a grant for some transformative research, since he obviously knows what it is. Should be easy, right?

  50. #50 Basiorana
    June 2, 2011

    The worst part is, Antarctic researchers have the shittiest job I can think of; it’s miserable and you slowly go mad. Why the heck are we getting all upset because a couple of employees in the most miserable part of the world had an after-hours party in which no one was hurt, no one got naked, no one complained and nothing was damaged. Seriously, it’s like they expect that scientists have to be SUPER SERIOUS SCIENTISTS all the time, and never have any fun or blow off steam no matter how stressful their job is.

    I mean, really, if you’re not working on you experiments in your basement and sleeping in your lab coat, neglecting your family and friends in the name of science, you are clearly terribly unprofessional and unworthy of a grant.

  51. #51 Autistic Lurker
    June 2, 2011

    Jacob, I had to deal with the same mess you did in the past and so did one of my brother. What fixed the mess is taking some good self-esteem courses, not increasing the autism research budget to cover 1% of spending.

    There’s a doctor I used to work for (and argue with…) who’s one of the top 10 researchers in autism cognitive neuroscience; he received a 3 millions private grant to design an education program for autistics and given that each students have their own subsidies (i.e. not paid as part of the 3 millions), the grant should go a very long way into designing a good education program based on sound evidence but, however, I don’t think such an education program will fix the self-esteem problems you are having nor should it too (there are many other programs for that).

    HTH
    A.L.

  52. #52 Phoenix Woman
    June 2, 2011

    Adrian Bejan @ 20:

    Senator Coburn is currently trying to tell people that doctors employed by the government make too much money. This despite the fact that Federal salaries top out at less than $160,000 per year, and you have to have been a Fed a good long while to get that much money.

    The reason he is doing this is to distract from his ties to the disgraced former senator John Ensign: http://my.firedoglake.com/phoenix/2011/06/02/to-draw-attention-away-from-his-role-in-ensign-scandal-coburn-attacks-feds/

  53. #53 Omri
    June 2, 2011

    I, for one, am furious about the jello wrestling thing. McMurdo Station is one of the most difficult workplaces on the planet. Especially in winter. Those staffers (not researchers, by the way – McMurdo has plumbers and mechanics too) needed to blow off steam, and so spent $20 on jello and wrestled in it. Good for them. The guy who was fired for it was dealt a gross injustice, and at minimum I want to buy him a beer.

  54. #54 ttch
    June 2, 2011

    I’m still waiting for a Republican-controlled House to ban funding of any research that mentions “evolution”. After all, the idea’s 150 years old — if it hasn’t been proved by now, why keep throwing good money after bad?

  55. #55 Jacob
    June 2, 2011

    thanks AL.

    Although, I don’t buy into the whole self-esteem thing.
    Psychologists love to look at the difference between how the psychologist describes the person, and how the person describes him or herself.
    How someone feels about him or her self, is not something a psychologist can actually rate or measure in any meaningful way.

    If you can’t fix it with moving, breathing and food, try ganja. If that doesn’t work, see a doctor. If that doesn’t work, go back to your herbalist. If that doesn’t work, we can always have it out!

    Yes, all thee bits of it.

    (still wiping away the tears!)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M68GeL8PafE

  56. #56 Autistic Lurker
    June 2, 2011

    @Jacob

    I don’t buy the whole self-esteem either but it gave me a good foundation and some good tools to help me out but in any case, I had some homework to do.

    A.L.

  57. #57 woodywood245
    June 2, 2011

    @Basiorana: And Jello is one of the cheapest substances in the world. True, it’s probably a little more expensive when it comes to getting it to Antarctica, but still.

    I feel like writing to the NSF proposing that I do research on whether or not smacking elected officials changes their opinion about various subjects. For all we know, it may be “transformative” research. But at the same time, that probably falls under the social sciences….

  58. #58 AussieMarcus
    June 2, 2011

    I’ve got a different take on this.

    I must admit I don’t really have a problem per se with science being held up to scrutiny, even “ridicule”, if it forces scientists to better articulate exactly what they are doing and why. It’s a well-worn argument that most scientists are basically hopeless at communicating with laymen, so is it really surprising that politicians and the public will be confused and angered by what they see is a frivolous waste of money?

    Like it or not, the purse strings are held by non-scientists, and there is still a distrust and even fear of science in many quarters, so I really don’t think the whole “Ha ha these dumb idiots don’t understand” is a smart response. The onus is on us as scientists to HELP lay people understand why this supposedly “silly” research is actually beneficial and important.

  59. #59 Hubbub
    June 3, 2011

    I can actually comment a bit on the “laundry-folding robot” (Award Abstract #0904672). The principal investigator on that grant, Stuart Russell, wrote one of the foundational textbooks on artificial intelligence. That book is sitting in my classmate’s office right now and it has over 13,000 scholarly citations.

    The grant seeks to solve a big, open problem for complex planning tasks with artificial intelligence. Laundry folding is an incredibly complicated task for robots, so it makes a good benchmark for the tools they are developing.

    I know… just some self-absorbed putz peeing away our hard-earned tax dollars on the whims of his curiosity.

  60. #60 Nogbert
    June 3, 2011

    Kakistocracy.

  61. #61 SC (Salty Current)
    June 3, 2011

    the Golden Fleece Award appears to have been reborn, only this time in an more brain dead form that consists of an explicitly political attack on the National Science Foundation.

    Who funded this POS report, anyway?

    Fortunately, this data was provided for free by the Social Security Administration which has recorded and published the most popular baby names in the United States since the 1880s (freely available here: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/).

    I’ve long found that site fascinating.

    Most telling of all, Coburn proposes eliminating NSF funding for social sciences (p. 53),

    Also telling is that these people ADORE social scientists who join military and “national security” efforts. Shows that it’s really about the perceived usefulness of the social sciences rather than the quality or importance of the research. (The funny thing is that any solid social science research can potentially be of use to anyone, including the researchers’ political opponents, but their approach – trying to shut down inconvenient voices – does work for them at least in the short and medium terms.)

    Do boys like to play with trucks and girls like to play with dolls

    Well, some of Alexander’s research (ay, the vervets *shakes head*) is simply ludicrous, and it’s hard to believe it was funded or published by anyone. On the basis of that knowledge, the thought of the NSF funding this team is depressing. But that’s not representative, and it appears the report’s take is even more stupid than Alexander’s in any case.

  62. #62 Anonymous
    June 3, 2011

    Hey sorry to intrude – I just want to give notice that the Winkler County, Texas nurses will be on the next episode of This American Life. “Going up against the good ole boys network,” was how Ira described it in his teaser.

  63. #63 Julian Frost
    June 3, 2011

    @Rich Woods:
    “If I knew what the outcome would be I couldn’t call it research.”
    I don’t know who said that, but Werner von Braun is quoted as saying “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”

  64. #64 Julian Frost
    June 3, 2011

    @Rich Woods:
    “If I knew what the outcome would be I couldn’t call it research.”
    I don’t know who said that, but Werner von Braun is quoted as saying “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”

  65. #65 skybluskyblue
    June 3, 2011

    Thank you “Anonymous | June 3″.

    Being part of “The Family” is looking more and more like being part of an infamous group like Charles Manson’s “Family” (as far as the crazy mixed-up ideas and odd people in it -not the murders–although, some in it are influencing dictators that DO kill–one can see documentation of this at Wikipedia) from what we’ve seen over the years. Now I think I am starting to dislike the word “family”.

    Bravo, for standing up for true scientific progress guys.

  66. #66 skybluskyblue
    June 3, 2011

    Here is the link to the TAL promo for the two nurses in Texas story:
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/?next_week=1

  67. #67 Jacob
    June 3, 2011

    @nog

    Shouldn’t that be a Khakistocracy?

    Big white hunter is running your planet, the lefties banned us from shooting elephants so now where are we going to get our ivory from? Arabs teeth?

  68. #68 Taneli Huuskonen
    June 3, 2011

    Using a big net to catch fish is wasteful. You could catch the same fish with an appropriately placed very small net for each.

  69. #69 toto
    June 3, 2011

    Well, some of Alexander’s research (ay, the vervets *shakes head*) is simply ludicrous, and it’s hard to believe it was funded or published by anyone. On the basis of that knowledge, the thought of the NSF funding this team is depressing.

    Er…. What was so terribly “wrong” with the vervet study that it should prevent any future funding to the same team?

  70. #70 Vicki
    June 3, 2011

    The “Family” almost certainly has more blood on its hands than Charles Manson does: but they don’t hold the weapons themselves, they incite murder (e.g. in Uganda) and cut funds so poor women will die of undetected cancers and treatable complications of pregnancy.

    But we can and should use the word “family” where it applies: a friend of mine has the username “familyvalues” for her blog about her husband’s girlfriend’s pregnancy and the ways the three of them are interacting as a family, and raising a child together. A wanted baby with lots of loving parents and grandparents: those are real family values.

  71. #71 Amy
    June 3, 2011

    Well, I’ll be writing Coburn as I have many times before, although it makes no difference because I disagree with most of what he says, and almost all he votes on (although he is a tad better than our other completely looney senator, inhoffe). What I’ve always found frustrating about Coburn is that he is an MD, and I expect a little more appreciation of science from someone who has learned it and should be using it in his practice, yet he takes a number of anti-science stances based on his ideology. Disappointing for the budget, and for OK (except most Okies will love this). I have worked on an NSF grant for the last 6 years, so at least I have personal experience, not that he cares, any government spending is wrong to him.

  72. #72 SC (Salty Current)
    June 3, 2011

    Er…. What was so terribly “wrong” with the vervet study that it should prevent any future funding to the same team?

    Seriously? Vervets. Cooking pots.

    http://saltycurrent.blogspot.com/2011/02/laughable-gender-research-vervet-toy.html

    http://saltycurrent.blogspot.com/2011/02/delusions-of-gender-cordelia-fine.html

    Think about why they would expect sex differences in “preferences” for these objects amongst vervets, how the study was or was not designed (e.g., controlling for object features) to understand any differences they might possibly find in vervets, and the basis for the claim that “The results suggest that sexually differentiated object preferences arose early in human evolution, prior to the emergence of a distinct hominid lineage.”

    (If you’d prefer not to go to my blog, you can go to Google Books and read most of a kinder critique (I think she knows one of the authors) of these studies in Part 2 of Delusions of Gender.

  73. #73 Luna_the_cat
    June 3, 2011

    @AussieMarcus –
    The onus is on us as scientists to HELP lay people understand why this supposedly “silly” research is actually beneficial and important.

    I’ve been banging my head off this particular wall for a few years.

    It’s difficult to have an honest conversation when the other side doesn’t care about being honest. When you have a very strong, deep-rooted anti-intellectual movement which is dedicated to the proposition that having an education simply makes your opinions suspect (because, obviously, you have become “biased” and “closed minded”, and let’s not forget possibly “out of touch with reality”), and that anyone with a semester of a given subject in high school (and “good old common sense!”) has equal expertise to someone working at the level of post-grad or beyond, then it becomes difficult to convince them you’re worth listening to in the first place.

    And if you actually take the time to explain the problem you’re tackling, the first half-assed plausible-sounding (to them) “solution” becomes “obvious” to the person you’re speaking to, and attempts to explain why it’s not an obvious solution, no matter how patiently tackled, then become an issue of singing pigs too much of the time.

    Does this sound bitter, cynical and disillusioned? There’s a reason for that.

    An honest exchange of information is only possible if the other person is (a)interested, and (b)honest. While there are some out there who are, and who simply haven’t had the opportunity to see what is really being done, there’s the rest of the population who have no interest whatsoever, except in that gleeful feeling of making fun of people different to them.

  74. #74 AussieMarcus
    June 3, 2011

    Luna,

    I’m not talking about woo-meisters and anti-vacc loons and the like; the post is about the politicians and the public, who at least have the possibility of being convinced if we explain ourselves clearly.

    The majority of “lay” people I speak to seem interested enoguh; they just don’t have the background or knowledge to really understand. Remember these people know almost NOTHING about science; just like our research may seem “silly” to them, the sorts of questions or arguments they make might seem “silly” to us. I’ve had lots of people ask me “silly” questions about science; but that’s not because they’re ignorant or evil, they just don’t understand the subject. No point getting frustrated about it.

    Being talked down to by generations of scientists who had no interest in communicating effecitvely with Joe Public probably hasn’t helped.

  75. #75 Pierce R. Butler
    June 3, 2011

    Once I got meet recipients of one of Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece” awards. Back in the ’70s (or early ’80s?) they had worked out how to power the basic functions of a composting toilet for the National Park Service so that hiking trails could be expanded without the enormous expense of septic tanks (and roads for the honey trucks to empty them) in the highly-vulnerable hydrology of the Ozarks.

    Of course, as they soon realized, a “solar-powered outhouse” was irresistible Proxmire-bait. More disappointingly, the “Award” was only 15 minutes of press-conference fame; a trophy or plaque would’ve been too much to hope for, but they’d really wanted a certificate to frame and show off.

    Has anyone ever asked Sen. Coburn exactly how much money would be appropriate to appropriate for the pressing national security need of more lesbian patrols?

  76. #76 Old Rockin' Dave
    June 3, 2011

    Look back a little. There was once an obscure project that was based around bouncing radio waves off of water droplets in clouds. Put like that, it does sound kind of weird.
    Good thing they got to do it, though. Their findings gave rise to radar.

  77. #77 Krubozumo Nyankoye
    June 3, 2011

    Isn’t Conyers the good old boy who specifically commissioned Wegman and his fellow plagerizers to write a bogus report that denigrated all the climate science that points to AGW?

    Someone please correct me if I am wrong. If I’m not, then apparently Conyers’ idea of transformative science is using public money to produce corporate friendly bafflegab that protects the cash flow of his biggest donors.

    Didn’t the intellectually challenged VP candidate in the last election specifically mock research of fruit flies as frivolous thereby revealing an utter and complete ignorance of all things genetic, not to mention the multi-billion dollar fruit growing industry?

    From my perspective, not even as an academic researcher, the republican war on science is not only very real but a very serious threat to our economy, our ability to cope with our increasingly deleterious impacts on our environment.

    Orac – your map showing the global distribution of your readers is very imporessive, it encourages me just a little that you have such a wide audience. Keep up the respectful (or not so) insolence.

  78. #78 Krubozumo Nyankoye
    June 3, 2011

    Isn’t Conyers the good old boy who specifically commissioned Wegman and his fellow plagerizers to write a bogus report that denigrated all the climate science that points to AGW?

    Someone please correct me if I am wrong. If I’m not, then apparently Conyers’ idea of transformative science is using public money to produce corporate friendly bafflegab that protects the cash flow of his biggest donors.

    Didn’t the intellectually challenged VP candidate in the last election specifically mock research of fruit flies as frivolous thereby revealing an utter and complete ignorance of all things genetic, not to mention the multi-billion dollar fruit growing industry?

    From my perspective, not even as an academic researcher, the republican war on science is not only very real but a very serious threat to our economy, our ability to cope with our increasingly deleterious impacts on our environment.

    Orac – your map showing the global distribution of your readers is very imporessive, it encourages me just a little that you have such a wide audience. Keep up the respectful (or not so) insolence.

  79. #79 Neil Craig
    June 6, 2011

    However there is evidence, an OECD report concluded, that government funding of science has a net negative efect on progress. This is because the money goes to the politically connected and thoase who are likely to come up with the results the politicians want.

    Regretably, as Orac has repeatedly demonstrated here, once a scientist has got used to the government science gravy train they will defend any government fraud, not matter how obvious. The fact that not a single independent scientist supports the warming alarm fraud but nobody paid by the state will, proves that.

    So Proxmire may have been right but for reasons opposite to the ones he thought.

    The only probable exception to this is X-Prizes because they are open to anybody and the results cannot be subjective.

  80. #80 Steve
    June 7, 2011

    I wholeheartedly agree with Coburn that in these times of limited funds (unlike the good-old-days when they were unlimited), we should only fund research with transformative outcomes. In fact, we should only fund research who’s results we know beforehand. If the scientists protest that they don’t know or aren’t sure, then we should find people who ARE SURE and have them make the decisions about whom to fund. These people exist among politicians, the clergy, and the general public. This way we can prevent the waste of basic research dollars.

    Seriously though, the high-visibility examples given as “successful” research, such as “cloud computing”, “the Internet” and so forth are poor examples -albeit known to the public. These large projects are largely privately funded and developed. It’s the many invisible, yet essential, papers which are published in PLOS, Science, Cell, Nature which show the value of the seed government funding which the NSF provides. In fact, it’s especially important that the NSF fund “long-shot” (AKA crazy sounding) research precisely since nobody else will. Funny, nobody talks about the jobs research monies create…