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Nov 07 2013

I thought they claimed to be the small government party

Now, in addition to controlling who you are allowed to have sex with and how long you are supposed to be pregnant, the Republicans want to make sure science goals are short term and in the “national interest”.

Key members of the US House of Representatives are calling for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to justify every grant it awards as being in the “national interest”. The proposal, which is included in a draft bill from the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology that was obtained by Nature, would force the NSF to document how its basic-science grants benefit the country.

Yeah, OK, so how does working out the interactions in the hedgehog signaling pathway “benefit the country”? How does measuring the lipid composition of neurons in the substantia nigra “benefit the country”? How does documenting the identity of waxes on the abdomens of fruit flies “benefit the country”? Shall we just stop all research that doesn’t make a profit, doesn’t improve the range of cruise missiles, and doesn’t directly improve heart disease treatments for sclerotic old conservatives?

This is a first step in imposing a patriotism requirement on science…and a first step in killing the enterprise altogether.

It’s also terrifying that judging the worth of science is being put in the hands of Republicans — the know-nothing party of ignorant Jebus-lovin’ buffoons. (It would also be terrifying to see it under the thumbs of the credulous new-agey clowns in the other party — how about keeping science apolitical?)

103 comments

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  1. 1
    carlie

    The online submission for grants could auto-append this to every application: “This research is in the national interest because it will cause people in this country to know more about things that happen in the world and such research will keep us from falling behind every other country that engages in scientific research.”

  2. 2
    zenlike

    how does working out the interactions in the hedgehog signaling pathway “benefit the country”?

    It doesn’t, that’s the whole point.

    So the GOP is still committed to being the ‘stupid’ party then?

  3. 3
    Konradius

    The really funny part:
    If that was a standard for republican law proposals none would make the cut.

  4. 4
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Ummmm…we already have to do that. One of the two criteria on which a proposal is judged is “Broader Impacts”. From the NSF grant proposal guide:

    Broader Impacts: The Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.

    So we’re done here, no?

  5. 5
    raven

    Cthulhu damned ignorant barbarians and idiots. (I know this is inadequate to express my contempt but the English language has its limits.)

    1. Science is the basis of US exceptionalism and our leadership position in the world. That is just a fact. The US with 4.8% of the world’s population spends ca. 1/3 of its total R&D budget.

    Everyone knows it. The federal R&D budget is ca. 180 billion. Roughly half of that is military. We spend that money as a crucial part of our national well being and interest.

    2. The 20th century was a time of great economic growth in the USA. We went from horses to the Space and computer ages. Over half of that spectacular growth was due to scientific advances. Our average lifespans increased by 30 years.

    Science + entreprenurial capitalism = prosperity and power.

    3. Science underlies out modern civilization. If you look around, what you see are lots of gadgets and machines that make our lives wealthy and easier.

    This is just another battle in the GOP War on Science. Given the importance of science it makes as much sense as having a War on your liver, kidneys, or brain.

  6. 6
    michaelbusch

    One of the proposed ‘national interests’ is “promotion of scientific progress” (see the link). But since learning things is how science progresses, we should be done here – right?

  7. 7
    penumbra

    I was wondering how long it would take for Repuglicans to emulate the short-sighted Canadian conservatives in their quest to privatize everything. Not long, it seems.

    Short article from the AAAS: http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2013/0521_toronto.shtml

  8. 8
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    The Republicans are the Communists.

    Lysenkoism, pure and simple.

    No science unless it’s for the motherland.

  9. 9
    trucreep

    This is just one of the many ways our country will decline

  10. 10
    Nic Cross

    I’m sorry… but isn’t having scientific research programs “in the nation’s interest”? Forget what they are on, the fact that we have scientific research going on is the benefit.

  11. 11
    cswella

    Wasn’t this sort of thing one of the reasons why communist russia failed? Adhering to scientific ideas that only promoted the ‘national interest’, resulting in Lysenkoism and the starved masses? And set back Russian biology years?

    And here I thought they rejected communism.

  12. 12
    raven

    Only Six Percent Of Scientists Are Republicans: Pew Poll
    www. huffingtonpost .com/…/only-six-percent-of-scien_n_229382.html‎

    Jul 10, 2009 – “Many Republicans, especially the Evangelical wing of the party, are … Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), when asked whether the U.S. climate …

    A few decades ago, scientists were about half Democratic and half Republican.

    According to the latest poll, only 6% are now Republicans.

    That is what a few decades of their war on science has gotten them.

    They hate science because it doesn’t give them the answers they want. The earth isn’t 6,000 years old, gays aren’t subhuman, women are human, jesus isn’t lord, supply side economics doesn’t work, CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas, pollution isn’t good for you and on and on.

    In their New Dark Age world, “Reality Based Community” is an abomination unto Tea Party jesus.

  13. 13
    garnetstar

    Antiochus @4, you beat me to it. I’ve been wracking my brains for years trying to come up with new and bette ways to write the Broader Impacts section for my research proposals.

    But of course, the Republicans don’t know that NSF has two decades or so of such statements they can publish anytime. And, it wouldn’t help anyway: what this bill means is that science is a waste of money and shouldn’t be funded at all, unless it can be shown to make money for large corporations. That’s the only Broader Impact, national interest, they want to hear about.

  14. 14
    carlie

    Next logical step that they would never take: require every defense contract to prove how any amount they charge over and above parts and labor according to a standardized pay chart is in the national interest.

  15. 15
    Gregory in Seattle

    This one has been brewing for months: it is one of the very few things the House has been working on this summer, other than trying — and failing — to overturn the ACA. The main thrust of the legislation is to shut down any and all research that might verify the effects of anthropogenic climate change.

  16. 16
    Reginald Selkirk

    First, they should explain how shutting down the government and defaulting on the national debt are “in the national interest.”

  17. 17
    Chengis Khan, The Cryofly

    When today morning I read that a Montana democrat compared the Grand Old Pricks to taliban, I resented the comparison. But, now, I am convinced he is right. What else can we deduce from the goons’ wish list and the direction they want this country to go?

  18. 18
    Sili

    Shall we just stop all research that doesn’t make a profit, doesn’t improve the range of cruise missiles, and doesn’t directly improve heart disease treatments for sclerotic old conservatives?

    Yes.

    This has been Simple Answers to Simple Questions! Thank you for playing. Please join us again next week.

  19. 19
    devnll

    doesn’t directly improve heart disease treatments for sclerotic old conservatives?

    I read that initially as “sci-erotic”. Which seems weirdly appropriate, given their (official) attitude towards anything erotic.

  20. 20
    Sven

    This is the shit that kills me whenever Republicans say government should be run “like a business”. Fuck no!

    Businesses only invest in R&D that has a very high likelihood of payout in the not-too-distant future. No business is going to invest in projects or ideas that will be important 50 years from now, it’s too far away.

    And then there’s the broader point that a government exists to serve and protect the rights of the people, whereas businesses exist to earn profit from people…

  21. 21
    fernando

    What a wonderful idea!
    The Republicans are really brilliant!
    Destroying the main foundation of USA’s prosperity it is a great plan!

    Seriously: maybe the Republican are infiltrated enemies in the USA, that are actively trying to destroy the country, to put that Republic at the same level of… let’s say… a Bronze Age Teocrathic Tyranny?

  22. 22
    John Kruger

    I wonder if it could have been explained how studying properties of light and its speed might have been justified as “benefiting the national interest”. I bet they would can that kind of research.

    Goodbye nuclear weapons and nuclear power, we couldn’t justify the early exploration that lead to your discovery.

  23. 23
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    how does working out the interactions in the hedgehog signaling pathway “benefit the country”?

    We don’t know. That’s part of research. Some research ends up with, “Well, wow, now we know something we didn’t know before.” Some ends up with, “Oh, wow, this process can be used to ameliorate cranial-rectal inversion syndrome among RWA and GOP politicians!”

  24. 24
    sumdum

    Honestly, this sounds more like one of the absurd issues in Nationstates than real world news. Or The Onion.

  25. 25
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Publically funded science should be beholden to the public. This is a no brainer. Much of what constitutes broader impact in the hundreds of proposals that I have reviewed constitutes training. I can’t recall having read a grant that listed a personnel number of “1″. Even proposals providing little practical (rather than intellectual) capital have the potential to create museum exhibitions, k-12 outreach, curriculum development, and one million other things that positively benefit the society that funded them.
     
    But like I said. This is already a requirement of NSF. It shows that the Republicans don’t know how they already disperse funding.

  26. 26
    janiceintoronto

    Do these idiots have any clue what the Chinese are doing with science?

  27. 27
    Lofty

    The prime focus of the rethuglican led recovery will be… arms manufacture. Anyone not involved in gunz making can starve, for all they care. Now cough up that portable death ray they ordered, chop chop. That’s all they’ve wanted since infanthood. Damned science slowcoaches.

  28. 28
    iknklast

    And I know from long, painful experience how difficult it can be to justify a biodiversity survey or a wetland restoration as being a “benefit” to the country. It is, but not in the way these bozos want. It won’t make anyone any money, certainly not in the short term, but it will allow us to target our efforts at restoration and preservation more effectively. Oh, wait, that’s right – if we document the biodiversity, we might hold up progress in the name of a little fish or a silly bird.

  29. 29
    markr1957

    How is “adding to the sum of human knowledge” not always in the national interest? An America respected worldwide for having the best research scientists used to be the envy of the rest of the world. Now, foreigners take one look at our squabbling politicians in Congress and laugh themselves silly.

    Here’s a thought – maybe we can subdue the rest of the world by making them too weak with laughter to ever be a threat – but how would you fund the research for that?

  30. 30
    Bronze Dog

    It’s like these people think life is a Civilization game, where the technology tree and its benefits are entirely known ahead of time. Just throw enough beaker icons down the right hole to make a known, inevitable breakthrough.

    In the real world, dead ends exist. In the real world, we can be surprised by the implications of an unexpected result, which opens up new branches of research. We don’t know what’s possible until we try.

  31. 31
    congenital cynic

    For years, probably about 13 years, I have had grave misgivings about the direction of your country. This is not helping me calm those misgivings. Republicans, on average, are unbelievably irrational (assessing them against those who live in the reality based universe), and they are going to fuck you over for years to come. Becoming the death knell to scientific research is taking it to a new level of crazy. It’s like they don’t even understand on which side their bread is buttered. Stupidity of epic proportions.

  32. 32
    raven

    These ignoratuses are violating two rules most of us learn as kids.

    1. Don’t fix things that aren’t broken. US science is world class.

    2. Don’t kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

  33. 33
    Rob

    Oh FFS!

    Restructuring of science funding and delivery in my country to require direct economic benefit, coupled with short term funding of projects, is what eventually disillusioned me and drove me out of a research environment nearly 20 years ago.

    Ironically, or perhaps unfortunately now, one of the arguments for largely ditching ‘basic’ research was that as a small country we couldn’t afford basic research and had to direct public money toward research with direct or near term economic input. The argument was extended to say that others, especially the USA, were doing plenty of basic research. Uggghhhhh.

    The future belongs to those who do broad reaching basic science. By all means do the medium and short term work as well but fight tooth and claw to keep long term basic research going in all areas.

  34. 34
    gussnarp

    I wanted to quote Carl Sagan discussing the work of Maxwell in the Demon Haunted World in relation to this subject, but realized the whole chapter is quote-worthy. Maybe we should send a few copies of that book to Congress? So I’ll just quote his conclusion:

    Cutting off fundamental, curiosity-driven science is like eating seed corn. We may have a little more to eat next winter, but what will we plant so we and our children will have enough to get through the winters to come?

    -Carl Sagan, the Demon Haunted World.

  35. 35
    gussnarp

    Although the frontis-piece quotes to that chapter are awfully relevant, too:

    Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?

    -Ronald Reagan, campaign speech, 1980

    There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness”

    – George Washington, address to Congress, January 8, 1790

    Maybe if Republicans actually emulated the Founding Fathers instead of Saint Reagan we’d be a lot better off.

  36. 36
    MarkM1427

    And this is why, if I ever pursue a career in scientific research, it will NOT be in the US. I need to have a lot of distance between myself and these anti-science xxxxxxxx.

  37. 37
    AndrewD

    36 comments in and no-one has quoted Micheal Faraday
    Titled Lady-And what use, pray, is Electricity?
    Faraday- And what use, madam, is a new born baby?

  38. 38
    colnago80

    I would point out a paper published in 1908 by an somewhat obscure employee of the Swiss Patent Office on the subject of stimulated nuclear emission. The ultimate result of this paper is the laser, a multi-billion dollar industry. The employee in question was one Albert Einstein.

    Another example is a 1889 experiment by one Albert Michelson, a US Naval officer, attempting to measure the absolute speed of the earth in the universe. Now the Rethuglican troglodytes in the House of Representatives would say, who gives a flying f*ck about the absolute speed of the earth in the universe? Well, this experiment led to the Theory of Relativity and the harnessing of the energy in the atomic nucleus.

    The point is, one never knows what the impact of basic research will turn out to be.

  39. 39
    Rey Fox

    #37: Ha! Love it.

  40. 40
    philhoenig

    The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…”

    - Isaac Asimov

    (Admittedly the original Eureka was an accidental discovery too…)

  41. 41
    Endorkened

    Every day, in every way, I grow a little more convinced that the only thing wrong with the reservation system was who went to live on them.

  42. 42
    John Horstman

    Like any human action, the process of scientific pursuit is ALWAYS embedded within systems of power, and thus cannot be apolitical. That said, I strongly agree that imposing a political litmus test that any research funded by the public operate in the direct interests of the contemporary political elite (not even in the interests of the public at large, which is inevitably advantaged by better understanding of ANY aspect of reality, so all is in the public interest) in this country is an absurd, dangerous idea.

  43. 43
    Crimson Clupeidae

    And in case it isn’t obvious, the Republican party has never been the party of small government, in any way, really. History quite readily puts their the lie to their claim, but they keep making the claim, and the rubes keep believing it.

  44. 44
    mikeyb

    Hasn’t this already tried in the past with great success.

    Example: Stalin and Lysenko.

  45. 45
    voidhawk

    I’d like to wave a smug European bye-bye to the USA as we surpass you, unfortunately, we have our own clutch of anti-science morons ready to sacrifice one of the greatest gifts we have a species.

  46. 46
    Jafafa Hots

    Science is the basis of US exceptionalism…

    Way to turn me off to science, right there.

    Kill it. Kill science. If that’s what it does…

    Kill it.

  47. 47
    mnb0

    You thought wrong. Neo-cons only want a small government when it comes to economy and to social issues. When it comes to security they want a big government. Remember Ronald Reagan, that liar who promised to cut down but became a big spender?

  48. 48
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    Monitor note:

    MarkM1427 #36

    Please don’t use ablist slurs, such as plays on the word “retards.”

    Thank you.

    The Rules

  49. 49
    maddog1129

    #47 mnb0

    Neo-cons only want a small government when it comes to economy and to social issues.

    Not even this is true. Big big government money for the “economy” … when it’s CORPORATE economy. Big big government on *certain* social issues, such as religious belief and intervention into everyone’s associations, privacy, personal relationships, ability to hold employment, medical treatment, etc., etc., etc.

  50. 50
    raven

    Science is the basis of US exceptionalism…

    Way to turn me off to science, right there.

    ???? The USA is an exceptional country.

    World’s largest economy
    World leader in science
    World leader in space exploration

    World’s largest NSA database of phone calls and emails Oops, well, lets forget that one.

    It has nothing to do with an imaginary Sky Fairy as the fundies claim. It has everything to do with our science R&D.

    World’s largest lunatic fringes. So large they have their own lunatic fringes and their own political party which currently controls the US House. And if they get their way, the World’s first superpower that decides to become a third world country.

  51. 51
    bortedwards

    Australia is doing the same thing. Word for word. At least here it fits with the general horror that is our new government: minister for science, discontinued; minister for women’s affairs, discontinued, executive oversight taken on by male (allegedly *cough*) misogynist Prime Minister.
    Worst of all? Nary a sound of complaint…

  52. 52
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    I’ve been thinking about this.

    This fits right in with Randian libertarianism: I’ve got mine, fuck the rest of you. The GOP and their supporters have gotten rich benefiting from the government sponsored research and development. They’ve got theirs and, even if the US becomes an oligarchical hellhole, they will still have theirs. And there will be far fewer chances for others to become rich. Or even middle class.

  53. 53
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    For Fucks Sake. The only difference is that the NSF program officers would have to report what we already include in our grant proposals. This is a hilarious display of ignorance on the part of politicians who ought to no better, and a great inconvenience to overworked program officers, but it isn’t a blow to science. The blow to science has been happening over the last fifteen years as funding rates have stagnated. This is just a reporting issue.

  54. 54
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Heh. *know* better. Shit.

  55. 55
    Allan Frost

    Shall we just stop all research that doesn’t make a profit, doesn’t improve the range of cruise missiles, and doesn’t directly improve heart disease treatments for sclerotic old conservatives?

    Don’t forget the boner pills.

    PZ, I know you hate the idea of Idiocracy, but it appears were just a terrifyingly few more of these conservative old white dudes, in a position of power, away from making it a reality.

  56. 56
    Orac

    Oh, fer cryin’ out loud. They’re still at this?

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/05/03/politics-versus-scientific-peer-review/

  57. 57
    Allan Frost

    *we’re

    I’m already a member of the Idiocracy.

  58. 58
    Jafafa Hots

    All countries are exceptional.

    “American Exceptionalism” is virtually always used at BEST as arrogant nationalism, and more often as an excuse for being a exploitative and/or blatantly racist in foreign policy.

    I guess there actually IS such a thing as American exceptionalism though – we sure do demand plenty of exceptions.

  59. 59
    Jafafa Hots

    (PS – we are not “the greatest country on earth” (as if there actually IS such a thing))

  60. 60
    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach

    This is the shit that kills me whenever Republicans say government should be run “like a business”.

    Exactly. A country should be run like a frakkin’ country, not a business. It’s there to protect its population, not shareholders. To provide a home in all the many senses of that word, not an investment that can be bought and sold for short term profit.

    They’re traitors. Yes, I know the definition in the US constitution and if you don’t think that what they are doing is providing aid and comfort to the enemy then I think you’ve failed to notice a rather large pair of blinders that seem to have slipped over your organs of perception.

  61. 61
    gerryl

    PZ says: I thought they claimed to be the small government party.

    Actually, that concept is a typo. A hiccup. They are actually the small-minded government party.

    (That thought occurred to me the other night while I was listening to Rachel Maddow discuss the Virginia election and Gov. Ultrasound.)

  62. 62
    gregranzoni

    Just say it’s for the military. Stem Cells can heal heart soldiers so they can go back to killing, ion propulsion makes better rockets and missiles, electromagnetic currents can replace most cannons with rail and coil guns..

  63. 63
    unclefrogy

    the money guys know what science is and how it works.The average ignorant rep-pol will spout any fucking crap to get elected by the their ignorant base of voters, Lately they have even let some of the ignorant base get elected and they seem to let them say and do any dam fool shit and they keep being supported as long as when it comes to voting they vote the way they want them to when they want them to. If they are about any thing they are about control. They get good press like on fox if they obey when the time comes, plus access to the donor list
    I wish I could just tune the whole dam thing out and drift away but that don’t work any more.
    uncle frogy

  64. 64
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @raven #50

    The most exceptional thing about the US is that its government and the majority of its citizens genuinely seem to believe that it is exceptional.

  65. 65
    anchor

    “I thought they claimed to be the small government party”

    Actually, they hate any government that doesn’t conform to their ideologies, regardless of whether it is populated by the VOTE of the PEOPLE (ostensibly) according to the democratic principles this nation is supposed to operate under. When they don’t like it, they whine that government is too big and make a big stink about how unfair and undemocratic the whole schlemiel is. Otherwise, they are ecstatic about force-feeding the goose to obtain what they consider their rightful periodic Pâté de Foie Gras gross profit.

  66. 66
    Nick Gotts

    Reading the linked article, it looks to me as Antiochus Epiphanes @25&37 says, a piece of political stupidity, and an unnecessary administrative burden, but not a major change, unless there’s devils in the detail.

    The main thrust of the legislation is to shut down any and all research that might verify the effects of anthropogenic climate change. – Gregory in Seattle@15

    Can you elaborate? This:

    The bill would also ban NSF grantees who deliberately misrepresent data from receiving new NSF awards for 10 years.

    certainly looks like an attempt to frighten climate scientists out of reporting the implications of their work, but who would be judging it?

    Now, foreigners take one look at our squabbling politicians in Congress and laugh themselves silly. – markr1957

    Well no, not those of us with any sense. A USA in the grip of the far right, or even politically paralysed, is extremely dangerous to the rest of the world.

  67. 67
    flex

    @Antiochus Epiphanes in #53,

    The only difference is that the NSF program officers would have to report what we already include in our grant proposals.

    The problem is a little more subtle than that. The additional requirement to report all the justifications for each NSF grant, publicly available on a website, invites public discussion and congressional review of each grant. Each grant. Which gives congress-critters plenty of ammunition to fire up their base, and/or work toward further politicizing of the NSF.

    Which isn’t to say that the justifications for grants shouldn’t be done. The NSF should, and does, require some sort of broader impact statement already. But the decisions about how to allocate the funding for the applications should be decided by the NSF, based on their understanding of what research will provide the most benefit. And they currently do that.

    However, since Gingrich abolished the OTA (because in his hubris he felt that he could perform it’s function simply by using his gut), the no-nothings in congress have decided that they too know more about how NSF funds should be allocated than the NSF.

    While I am sympathetic to the idea that the NSF should publicly list all the grant proposals and the benefit statements, they should do so with additional justification from the NSF as to why some grants were funded and why some were not. To do so will require a lot more work from the NSF administrators; a good bit of work describing the system they use to make the decision (written at a 4th grade reading level for congress), and the results of their system for each grant. It wouldn’t be a paragraph, it would be multiple pages of text. Multiple pages of text for each grant. And you couldn’t put a summary together without falling into the same trap of providing politician’s ammunition, because a summary of NSF grants would include plenty of studies of drosophila.

    Since this proposed congressional requirement doesn’t appear to have any funding attached to it, which would be necessary in order to perform the task properly, I can only conclude that this is a strategy to extract information from the NSF which can be used to attack it.

  68. 68
    AJ Milne

    Ah, you USAians. So behind…

    Why, our Dear Leader up here in Canada is already implementing this very plan

    … also, he’s a sleazy little shit, and he’s doing it by stealth and in steps and managing so far mostly to get away with it exactly by doing it so incrementally and by deliberately muzzling anyone who might comment upon it and upon science he doesn’t want to hear in general. Which, I’m afraid, appears so far to be alarmingly effective at getting it actually done…

    So, actully, maybe it’s kinda a different plan. Not so much throwing dangerously rancid meat to the base as clearing the way for your richer and more unprincipled donors in the resource extraction biz…

    (/Anyway, I’d say to tell your part of the rich, white, and too disgustingly self-absorbed to give a fuck about anything but their portfolio’s performance next quarter to take notes, but as if we don’t all already have enough problems… So let’s pretend I never mentioned it, come to think of it.)

  69. 69
    AJ Milne

    (/… erm, your party of the rich, white, etc.)

  70. 70
    w00dview

    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)@8:

    The Republicans are the Communists.

    Lysenkoism, pure and simple.

    No science unless it’s for the motherland.

    It really is something that no matter what part of the political spectrum they fall into, the aims of authoritarian leaders are remarkably similar.

  71. 71
    esmith4102

    The composition of the modern GOP is a direct reflection of an electorate too lazy or too stupid to include good governing in their “circle of concern”. In many respects, government will always cater to these, the lowest common denominator, because that’s where the most votes are. Unfortunate, but true.

    I don’t think it’s cynical to say our attempts to educate Americans in Science Literacy and Civics have failed.

  72. 72
    flex

    @esmith4102, who wrote,

    I don’t think it’s cynical to say our attempts to educate Americans in Science Literacy and Civics have failed.

    I don’t think it’s really been tried, so I’m not certain that we can say that it failed.

    That may be too harsh. But in my day (let me get my cane), science literacy only was taught to people who were interested in science and civics dealt with mechanisms not the idea of good governance. Even then, if a high school teacher had said, ‘The purpose of government is to promote the general welfare’ the parents would have complained about communism.

    As far as I can tell, only in the last 30 years or so has there been an increase in the attempts of educators to promote scientific literacy among all high school students, and not all students are interested. I can’t speak to any changes in civics education, I haven’t followed that.

    However, 30 years really isn’t enough time to make a huge impact in our culture or our legislators. Also, remember that government rarely leads a social movement, but often follows it by 20-50 years. This is largely because the people in leadership roles in government are used to the status quo of when they grew up, and as we often elect older people (okay, many of them are now my age, although many are still older) to congress, they do not see society in the same way that the progressive element does.

    The best we can do is continue to push. I am encouraged by those people younger than I am, they do seem to have a better ability to identify bullshit than my generation did. That’s the first step.

  73. 73
    Tualha

    In a time of tight budgets, says a Republican committee aide, research with a high return on investment should be prioritized.

    Ah, yes! Tight budgets! Let’s talk about tight budgets. Is it possible they have anything to do with Republican tax cuts? How about a military budget that far outspends the rest of the world? Could a couple of wars have anything to do with it?

    Ah, but as President Obama says, we need to look forward, not back. Ignore all the war criminals, and ignore how we got into this mess in the first place. Look forward! Let us now pare science to the bone and beyond, so that 1,000 generals can continue to draw their salaries, defense contractors can continue to make obscene profits, and comfortable Republicans won’t have to pay any more taxes on their unearned income.

  74. 74
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Nick Gotts:

    Now, foreigners take one look at our squabbling politicians in Congress and laugh themselves silly. – markr1957

    Well no, not those of us with any sense. A USA in the grip of the far right, or even politically paralysed, is extremely dangerous to the rest of the world.

    Indeed. The US has the greatest military capability in the world, taking into account numbers, training and equipment; not to mention more nuclear weapons than all the other nuclear powers combined. The thought of an End-Times enthusiast or anyone of a Dominionist persuasion getting in charge of that lot frankly terrifies me.

  75. 75
    eveningchaos

    Canada has similar problems under the Harper Regime. If it’s science for oil and gas exploration or extraction, money is not an issue. If it’s for solar power, environmental sciences, or renewable energy, good luck finding funding. Harper has also muzzled scientist from speaking to the media about environmental concerns. He has stripped our data collection in environmental sciences and effectively blinded us so we can’t make good decisions with respect to the environment. What Harper wants is salable, patentable, profit based science with pure science and curiosity put out to pasture. We are going to be left in the dust in terms of innovation as a result and our once beautiful country will be one big tar pit with pipelines stretching coast to coast and down to our neighbors to the south.

  76. 76
    mothra

    U.S. exceptionalism is a chimera in both senses of the word. The scientific establishment of the U.S. has had two ‘windfalls’ in the 20th century, WWI and WWII. Both of which gave ‘us’ a large swath of the Euopean intellectual community. When we are not functioning as a scientific refuge, we revert to our ‘back woods’ origins. U.S. exceptionalism: Einstein (not U.S.), Darwin (not U.S.), Newton (before U.S.), Mendel (not U.S.), Pauling (not U.S.), von Braun (not U.S.- and other baggage), Turing (not U.S.), Bohr (not U.S.), Heisenberg (not U.S.), Priestly (not U.S.). It seems that most the fundimental research from which the U.S. prospered was by people not part of the U.S. educational system. There is a fair argument for British exceptionalism. Oh wait, we have Kary Mullis.

  77. 77
    unclefrogy

    when a company that depends on innovation and new products that lead the market in new directions starts to cut there research and development budget because of new management you know it is time to reassess your position in the stock. and unless management has some plan for the future development to begin to reduce your position and take some profit while the share price is high because it wont stay high. There are many companies that fail because they follow the path that the “government should be run like a business” party advocate. One thing that can be said for sure there are none that are market leaders!

    uncle frogy

  78. 78
    unclefrogy

    Is the Pauling mentioned above this Pauling?

    Born Linus Carl Pauling
    February 28, 1901
    Portland, Oregon, USA
    Died August 19, 1994 (aged 93)
    Big Sur, California, USA

  79. 79
    mothra

    The last comment needs some clarification. I am specifically noting that most of those responsible for fundimental advancements from which the U.S. (and the world benefited) neither originated in the U.S., nor were educated here. So, any national pride issue is misplaced. The U.S. has, because it was a country with vast natural resources and cheap labor, been wealthy enough to afford to (unwittingly) be a scientific refuge. We do have outstanding world class scientists, but to claim exceptionalism is misguided. We are exceptional in the same sense that the Islam Caliphate preserved Greek learning and literature through the ‘Dark Ages’ and benefited and added to it.

  80. 80
    mothra

    @78- I sit correted, thank you.

  81. 81
    raven

    <b.The last comment needs some clarification. I am specifically noting that most of those responsible for fundimental advancements from which the U.S. (and the world benefited) neither originated in the U.S., nor were educated here. So, any national pride issue is misplaced.

    It doesn’t need any clarification. It’s just wrong.

    The USA has and does attract the best scientists from all over the world. That is a feature, not a bug.

    That isn’t accidental. We have the money and opportunities here they don’t have over there. Even Francis Crick ended up in Southern California.

    The US has 30 out of 40 of the world’s best research universities. That isn’t accidental either.

  82. 82
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    tim rowledge #60

    Exactly. A country should be run like a frakkin’ country, not a business.

    Frankly, even businesses shouldn’t be run like Republicans claim that we should run them (or the country). This look-at-next quarter’s-margins-and-stockholder return -above-all-else mentality that is corporate America is catastrophic from any perspective that values human rights, a robust economy, quality products, a decent lifestyle, or personal health and safety.
    flex 72

    As far as I can tell, only in the last 30 years or so has there been an increase in the attempts of educators to promote scientific literacy among all high school students, and not all students are interested. I can’t speak to any changes in civics education, I haven’t followed that.

    This is news to me and everyone I know who was in high school during the last 30 years. There are some high schools where it’s possible to get a decent science education, and something that kind of resembles civics in a bad light, like the one I went to, which was considered one of the better public HS in the state. Even there, one had to go out of one’s way to get a decent science education by signing up for the right classes with the right teachers, and there were limited slots, such that not everyone who wanted in could get in. Talking to people who went to other high schools, there wasn’t even really that much. I realize it’s anecdata, but given what I’ve seen of statistics regarding American science literacy or lack thereof, I have no trouble believing that it’s common.
    Thumper #64
    I dunno, I’d say our absurd levels of military spending qualify as pretty damn exceptional, although I really wish we could stop being so exceptional in that regard.

  83. 83
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Twenty years ago, the US killed the Superconducting Super Collider, sending leadership in particle physics research overseas.

    In six years, our Earth Observation Satellite systems will have degraded to the point where our prediction capabilities will be seriously degraded.

    In ten years, there will probably be no state-of-the-art semiconductor fabs in the US, and we will relinquish leadership in orbiting telescopes of all types to Europe and Asia.

    In twenty years, we will be Haiti with nukes.

  84. 84
    Rich Woods

    @a_ray #83:

    In twenty years, we will be Haiti with nukes.

    And other countries will be sending homeopaths to help you out when God smites you with natural disasters.

    As much as claims of American exceptionalism turn my stomach, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  85. 85
    alwayscurious

    @81
    Absolutely correct…but the risk is that this can go away at any time with the Republican winds blowing so hard. California is a Democratic stronghold and has been committed to higher education in a way that few other states have managed. But Republicans apply pressure to California, just as they do elsewhere, to trim back funding for education, research, and the like. The Republicans might best be described as the party of stratification: education stratification will follow as did wealth stratification. The most educated people in the world may well live in US…not so far from the least educated people in a first world country. And just like the wealthy keep their money in the Cayman Islands, the most educated might have to get their education elsewhere before returning here.

    The same forces that attracted scientists from overseas will send them back overseas just as fast if funds dry up, the country keeps mongering worldwide trouble and opportunities become available elsewhere. The US might actually be best served by setting priorities nationwide rather than trying to be superior in all fields. That way it gives politicians a goal to work towards, sort of like how national defense is prioritized above everything else (I begrudgingly call that research, sort of).

  86. 86
    gussnarp

    Watson, US; Feynman, US; Hubble, US; Oppenheimer, US; McClintock, US; Pauling, as noted, US. I can make lists, too.

  87. 87
    mothra

    My poin still is ‘the U.S. is not exceptionall in science.’ We do things in an ‘response to’ mode. Our space program was not an initiative of itself, but a cold war contest. Where was the super collider built again? (Hint: not U.S.).

  88. 88
    eric123

    The contemporary conservative politician: Mentally flailing about, always desperate to find some principle, idea, book or doctrine or authority or some eternal political axiom that relieves him from the terrible burdens of uncertainty, ambiguity, compromise and the moral necessity of thinking.

    Small government, that’s it! Except when that principle doesn’t work in practice, in which case the conservative adds on some exception to the rule, like an ad hoc Ptolemaic epicycle, e.g., “national security.”

    Free market Jesus will solve all of our problems–that’s it! Except when He doesn’t. Well, in that case we just don’t notice and simply carry on. The politically approved grifters are making money, and that’s what matters.

    And now, science can only be funded if it meets the perfectly inscrutable and mind-numbing standard of “national interest.”

    God, the Bible, “traditional values,” “true Americans,” and on and on…all the idols, shibboleths, reifications, revisionist this and that, all the ideas long taken off of empirical life support but still worshipped by the conservative because he needs to secure his interior terror and uncertainty to something stable so that he can merge with it and hopefully too become stable and true and unchanging.

  89. 89
    cbarf

    For me one of the biggest problems is the axiom of knowing what science may be in the national interest. One of the biggest criticisms of industrial research is that in order to complete large numbers of trials in reasonable cost and time constraints they focus only on positive results whilst ignoring any negative-for-an-interesting-reason results. Scientific discoveries are also made by accident (or to be more specific lines of inquiry are stumbled upon by accident and then pursued by highly competent people).

    Short term thinking can also lead to a scientific debt, where short term problems are solved but the lack of deeper investigation into long term hard problems are left untouched meaning that they do not become short term goals in the future.

  90. 90
    Nick Gotts

    Thumper@74,

    Not just that, either: the world needs the USA to be in the forefront of mitigating anthropogenic climate change, both because it’s such a large source of greenhouse gases, and because of its scientific and technical prowess.

  91. 91
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    It doesn’t matter whether the US has been exceptional in science or not. That’s the past. As a scientist and a citizen, what matters most to me is what steps we take to keep science going and to make it better. IMNSHO, we are failing from the bottom to the top. *rant emerging*
     
    The NSF periodically assesses US attitudes toward science and scientific literacy. A strange paradox emerges. While US citizens generally express a rather positive attitude toward science, they occupy the middle of the pack in terms of scientific literacy. Social media just nails that point to the ground. Eight million Facebook users like “I Fucking Like Science”…and yet the stupid on the FB is staggering. Bewildering and upsetting even. As it turns out a lot of people don’t actually fucking like science, but they like the things that science gives them, and it’s kind of cool right now to seem nerdy. Maybe that’s a different story. Regardless. One of the few places that the government seems to be completely in line with the will of the people is in paying lip service to the importance of publically funded science. No one is amassing votes by offering to shut NASA down, but at the same time, no one is emerging from the political pack by offering to increase science spending through the avenues that already exist and have in the past been very effective. As a people, we are utterly indifferent to promoting science, even though we like to seem otherwise.
     
    Were the economy provincial, I would have very little doubt that science’s strongist lobby would eventually emerge from industry because industry depends on basic research nourished at the public teat. Corporate R&D is simply not disposed to performing any research that doesn’t have a strong probability of rapid monetary return. But, the economy is not provincial. Other nations are doing the things that we claim that we’d like to; our ambivalence is going to fuck us. I’m not worried about a few backwater congressmen sending us back to the stone ages by taking direct action against the sci establishment. I fear that we will drift backwards into intellectual irrelevance all on our own, simply because we are too preoccupied with the controversies* invented by politics and the media to paddle forward. That’s what I think is happening here anyway.
     
    Eric Weiner’s junk txts, and the like.

  92. 92
    mickll

    Essentially means they want all federally funded research to go towards “defense” as well as R&D their corporate buddies can’t be bothered doing themselves.

    Which would actually lead to more waste and less accountability, but that’s probably the idea!

  93. 93
    mikee

    So according to contributors here the following countries appear to be refocusing onto short term, limited vision ‘science”

    USA
    Canada
    Australia

    and I would add that the signs are the New Zealand is about to follow down that path

    did I miss anyone? How is it going in the UK and the rest of Europe? Asia?

  94. 94
    Jafafa Hots

    Someone always comes along to wave a flag and bask in the reflected “glory” of their selective perceptions.

    Like I said. Nationalism at best.

  95. 95
    sadunlap

    Although it could get a bit hokey at times The West Wing did a good job on this one. In the episode in which an RNJ attacks the middle daughter (M.D., Ph.D. performing research at the NIH) over the project she’s working on the press conference scene at the ends sums up everything nicely.

    I could not find a free clip nor have the apps to make one. The “Ellie” character starts out by pointing out that while researching the brains of PCP addicts looks like a poor use of taxpayer’s money, the research led to the discovery of the NMDA receptor which has implications for Alzheimer’s research.

    My analogy is that funding scientific research that passes peer review is like playing roulette when the house pays 40-1 on red or black. There are 38 numbers so if you place a dollar on each one you will win each time. The benefits from the lines of inquiry that pan out more than pay for those that don’t. You can’t loose.

  96. 96
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Possibly someone has mentioned this before, but I recall a study that looked at basic vs. applied research and discovered that basic research created more industrial and economic benefits than the research that attempted to do so.

  97. 97
    PDX_Greg

    For a party that is obsessed with abstinence, they sure like to screw everything.

  98. 98
    rogerfirth

    But the GOP *is* the party of small government. How else would they fit the government inside the envelop along with the grant proposal when it’s mailed? How else would they fit the government inside a woman’s uterus, doctor’s exam room, elementary school classroom, immigration office, etc.

    The GOP wants a small government so they fit it anywhere and everywhere.

  99. 99
    vaiyt

    First it was the unqualified jobs, the qualified jobs, and then education, now scientific progress itself is being offshored.

  100. 100
    SQB

    Fruit flies wax their chests and back? Mind blown!

  101. 101
    TheBlackCat

    How does playing with electric sparks benefit the country? How does shooting beams of electrons at hunks of metal benefit the country? How does sucking the air of glass jars benefit the country? How does sifting through tons or rocks benefit the country? How does sticking a jar of water in a giant magnet and shooting it with radio waves benefit the country? How does using a light to make more light benefit the country?

    Anyone asking these sorts of questions doesn’t know where the stuff they depend on every day came from.

  102. 102
    larrylyons

    Didn’t one of the Republican committee members say the following:
    “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
    - Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA)

    And asshats like this want to change the grant system. If this goes through there will be a massive politicization of scientific research, and an accompanying fall from this country being #1 in terms of scientific research.

  103. 103
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Nick Gotts #90

    Yes, that too. As a first-world country, the richest single country in the world, with an established (if under siege) science industry and the worlds second largest producer of green house gasses, the US really needs to be at the forefront of environmental efforts if we have any hope of combatting it. If any nutjob who takes Genesis 1:26 literally ends up in charge then that ain’t gonna happen.

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