Baffling and ominous

Who needs expertise and knowledge? In the bold new world of the Teabagger Republicans, all you need is a sense of privilege and outrage, and you too are qualified to do rocket science and brain surgery…or, at least, to complain about rocket science and brain surgery. Here’s the latest brilliant idea from a Republican congressman: the National Science Foundation provides easy access to their database of grant awards online, so let’s sic a mob of uninformed, resentful, anti-science gomers loose on the field of already extensively vetted (by qualified people!) awards and have them seek out places to trim the fat.

It’s a proven strategy for pandering to the ignorati; Senator Proxmire used it for years. A lot of research is arcane and deeply imbedded in the context of a specific discipline, so it’s really, really easy to find a grant proposal that looks weird or silly or as if it has no possible utility, and then you can have a press conference and deplore wasteful spending by highlighting it, and making noise about taking back that $75,000 grant and somehow solving the federal deficit. It’s theater, nothing more, and its indirect effect is to belittle all of science in the process.

For some reason, these grandstanders never seem to target defense agencies, where the real money lurks.

So now Eric Cantor is playing this game, and he’s calling on people to hack away at the federal budget by picking nits at NSF. He wants people to search NSF and report back to him with grant numbers that they don’t like.

It’s very peculiar. NSF has a wide brief and offers grants within a great many fields, so Cantor singles out grants to study the kinetics of soccer players and to model sounds for use by the video game industry as wasteful…but why? The latter at least sounds like it would help industry, and ought to be a Republican favorite.

And then he gives hints on searching the database, listing words that might yield boondoggles: “success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus, etc.” Why these are bad, I don’t know. Sure, try searching NSF for grants that mention culture or media; boom, practically every award to a microbiologist pops up. Does he have something against museums? And why lawyers? NSF has a whole program supporting Law and the Social Sciences!

And if lawyers are a waste of federal funds, then I need only point out that Eric Cantor is a lawyer by training. We could save even more money than killing a grant would do by simply firing that bum!