Mark Hoofnagle is urging everyone to get behind a simple, non-partisan goal that would greatly benefit science policy: bring back the Office of Technology Assessment.
It used to be, for about 30 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.
Spread the word. Build a drumbeat of support for this idea in the blogs. Write to your congresspeople. Write op-eds for your newspaper. It’s a simple idea that everyone should agree on: we want our government to be well-informed and to be able to make decisions based on evidence, and having an advisory office dedicated to providing information from the scientific community would be a real boon.