Monday, December 06, 2010

YouCut: Crowdsourcing anti-science sentiment?

House Republicans recently presented their latest piece of anti-science campaigning.  This follows a failed amendment by Senator Tom Coburn earlier this year to cut off money for the National Science Foundation’s political science program. And funding agencies have been in the campaign crossfire before. During the 2004 election cycle, Congressman Brad Miller was targeted in a campaign ad for having voted against a Republican amendment that would have forced the National Institutes of Health to cancel five specific research grants, including four mentioned in the ad:
"Brad Miller voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes in San Francisco.  Instead of spending money on cancer research, Brad Miller spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men. Brad Miller spent your tax dollars to study something called the Bisexual Transgendered and Two-Spirited Aleutian Eskimos, whoever they are. Brad Miller even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia."
Now, some House Republicans are pushing the idea of stirring up anti-science sentiment among the general public even further, and are trying to crowdsource a "citizen review" of the National Science Foundation:
"We are launching an experiment - the first YouCut Citizen Review of a government agency. Together, we will identify wasteful spending that should be cut and begin to hold agencies accountable for how they are spending your money.

Among the keywords that Republican lawmakers "suggest" the public zero in on:
"success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus"
All of this would be somewhat humorous if the stakes weren't so high. Federal government funding of R&D as a fraction of GDP has declined by 60 percent in 40 years (a statistic that was -- ironically -- compiled by the very agency House Republicans are trying to cut). Meanwhile, U.S. leadership in science and technology is being challenged by China, Japan, and a number of European countries. And an excellent Harvard Crimson editorial today outlined what that may mean down the road:
"Republicans ... must consider the reality that science funding has been the backbone of America’s technical development and prowess. Any attempts to cut or draw down this funding are short sighted, and more importantly, undermine the engine that has catapulted the U.S. into its dominant position today."
The last word on this issue goes to Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin:
"I would rather trust the judgment of 10 doctors sitting around a table than I would 10 politicians sitting around a table when we decide how to allocate taxpayer money for those grants."


Philipp said...

I find interesting that in the video the contributions of fundamental sciences are highly appreciated, while more applied research is condemned. Usually it is the other way around, and conservative science critiques attack the fruitless sciences that have no impact on the economy or everyday live.
However, the later details and suggested search terms indicate that it does not really matter and the main suggested category is the individually perceived and arbitrary "oddness".