With the Dems now about to assume control of both houses of Congress, science policy is going to change. Big time. Indeed, in The Republican War on Science I pointed out that one reason the Reagan administration never messed with science as much as the current administration was because the Democratic Congress helped keep it in line.
We can now expect the same thing to transpire with the Bush administration. The big changes I’m looking at will come in the following areas:
1. Committee Chairs. People like James Inhofe won’t be able to build global warming hearings around people like Michael Crichton any more. People like Joe Barton won’t be able to harrass climate scientists. This is a big deal.
2. Committee Chairs, Part II. Meanwhile, people like Henry Waxman, who have been concerned about Bush administration abuse of science, will now be able to use the power of subpoena to demand information that has previously been withheld from them. Before now, most of what we learned about all the various outrages came from good old journalistic prying, often including use of the Freedom of Information Act. But with powers of subpoena, expect to Congress to find out a lot more about what was *really* going on behind the scenes in some of these agencies.
3. Scientific Integrity Legislation. Various bills have been proposed, and their details vary, but some general points are clear. This is very limited legislation that is designed to curtail the worst abuses of the Bush administration with respect to science. I.e., rule out the forced editing of scientific reports by politicos; ensure free speech and whistleblower protections to government scientists; and so on. This legislation was treated as “partisan” in the last Congress and so could not pass. Now, it can.
4. Office of Technology Assessment. It may not be a top priority for the new Democratic Congress, but I don’t see why Rush Holt’s bill, to restore Congress’s scientific advisory office, shouldn’t be able to move now. This, again, was treated as anathema by Republicans when they ran Congress. Now, it ought to seem like a no-brainer.
In addition to this kind of stuff, the treatment of specific science-related issues–global warming, embryonic stem cell research, etc–will also change. In short, we’re going to be in a very different world in terms of the relationship between politics and science in the United States. Some good old checks and balances will be coming into force–thank goodness.
By the way, all of this is proof enough–as if anyone ever needed any–that many core aspects of science policy are fundamentally partisan in the currrent political climate. That’s why we expect them to change when Congress changes hands.