Let's Un-Lobotomize Congress

In "The Republican War on Science" Chris Mooney referred to the Newt Gingrich-led Congress' decision to eliminate the Office of Technology Assessment as "a stunning act of self-lobotomy." If anything, he was lowballing the effects. For those of you who aren't familiar with this agency (and don't feel bad if you're not; it's been dead for 12 years), the OTA was a nonpartisan Congressional agency. It's job was to provide Congress with an objective analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues relevant to various issues that were relevant to measures under consideration.

Ostensibly, the OTA was a victim of budget cuts - Congress trimming some of its own "unnecessary" spending. In reality, it might have also been the one of the early victims of the surreality-based community's time in power. An agency that reports objective facts to Congress can get in trouble pretty quickly when reality itself has become a partisan issue. With reports containing controversial truths like, "sex education and AIDS education directed at school-aged youth do not increase sexual activity," and, "delay in responding [to climate change] may leave the nation poorly prepared to deal with the changes that do occur and may increase the possibility of impacts that are irreversible or otherwise very costly," it's not much of a surprise that they didn't do well under the Contract on America.

Mark Hoofnagle thinks that it's time to bring back the OTA. He's right. We need to return to reality-based governance. Bringing back the OTA would be a fantastic step in the right direction. Yes, it would mean spending money, but that shouldn't be a big deal. When it was killed, the OTA has an annual budget of about $22 million. To put that in perspective, that works out to an annual cost per American of well under one cent; it would fund the war in Iraq for about 155 minutes.

Mark thinks that you should contact your Congressional delegation, and encourage them to resurrect the OTA. That's a good idea, and you should, but they're not the only people you should get in touch with. It's election season again, and we've got quite a few people out there who have expressed a desire to become the next leader of the free world. I think it would be good if some of them - especially the ones currently in Congress, who can sponsor legislation - show us exactly how committed they are to the idea of using real facts to set policy.

Here's a list of the major-party candidates who have filed with the FEC, along with links to their campaigns' contact information. I've marked currently serving members of Congress with an *. For reasons of space and time, I'm not going to list third-party candidates. A list of third-party candidates can be found here, and if you are so inclined, I'm sure you can find their information fairly quickly.

Democrats:

(Edwards, Gravel, and Richardson are all former Senators or Representatives.)

Republicans:

(Thompson is a former Senator.)

Reality should not be a partisan issue, so go ahead and contact all of the candidates regardless of your own party affiliation.

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Chris Mooney has been nice enough to help promote our effort, and points us to some more helpful information about the Office of Technology Assessment. Now would be a good time to go over what the OTA did, how it was set up, and why I think it would be rather easy to set it up again as a non-…
Let's keep this ball rolling. On Friday we started talking about the importance of the OTA It used to be, for about 20 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…
Some of the other SciBlings are doing it, so why not ... My compatibility with the current gaggle of presidential candidates: Kucinich (95) Gravel (90) Richardson (82) Edwards (81) Dodd (78) Clinton (74) Obama (72) Biden (72) Paul (61) McCain (44) Thompson (38) Huckabee (36) Romney (35) Giuliani (…
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Not only did it not cost very much, it *saved* us many times that amount of money by preempting various sorts of tomfoolery. I don't remember the numbers that were mentioned when they first killed the OTC, but they were *huge*.

How exactly do you intend to force Congress to listen to undesired, unpleasant facts? You can't elect people willing to take an unpopular, politically-inconvenient stance on any issue, and the people in charge don't care whether they have your votes, as long as they have enough. Not that you'd consider not voting anyway, since it would make you "irrelevant".

So, where's your lever? Your fulcrum? Where will you stand to move the world, hmmmm?

By Caledonian (not verified) on 19 Sep 2007 #permalink

For those of you who aren't familiar with this agency (and don't feel bad if you're not; it's been dead for 12 years),

Wouldn't that put its demise well within the Clinton era?

By Justin Moretti (not verified) on 19 Sep 2007 #permalink

For those of you who aren't familiar with this agency (and don't feel bad if you're not; it's been dead for 12 years),Wouldn't that put its demise well within the Clinton era?
Yes, it was an important item of business for the Gingrich congress.