Tonawanda News

April 30, 2013

Dear Congress -- Get your filthy hands off my science

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Here’s a scary tidbit: Republicans on the House science committee seem to want to have an unprecedented amount of oversight into what the National Science Foundation considers “worthwhile” when funding scientific grants.

A bill put forth by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology demands that the non-partisan foundation provide details to Congress in order to justify how it divvies up its research funding, potentially politicizing decisions how that funding is awarded in the future.

The Nation Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense,” according to nsf.gov. The foundation has an annual budget of about $7 billion.

Smith says that in these tough economic times, the federal government should have stronger oversight on how taxpayer dollars are being spent. That’s an incredibly valid point. Which is exactly why I want scientists deciding how scientific grants are awarded and not a financial writer-turned lawyer-turned congressman, which is exactly what Smith is.

The bill, titled the High Quality Research Act also asks the NSF to recommend how to place similar restrictions on other federal science agencies. In other words, it isn’t only good enough that Congress micromanage science, they’re looking to micromanage anything else possible, too.

For years, Republicans in Congress have been salivating at the opportunity to defund public broadcasting, in hopes of killing off that annoying Big Bird and his “liberal agenda” — you know, like teaching children not to hit, hate, pollute or waste.

I can only imagine what might happen if they get their hands on science. Coming soon to a textbook near you: How we lived alongside the dinosaurs and why God wants you to smite your neighbor.

Seriously, though, I could easily see a partisan Congress refusing to fund research on global warming, claiming the whole “phenomenon” to be a hoax. Scarily there are even members of Congress who don’t believe in evolution. Could that get the ax? What if we get a band of loonies who want to declare the earth flat?

I rely on Congress to fund government, provide some national infrastructure and keep me safe the rest of the world. If they can figure out how to do those things, I’ll consider turning to them when I have questions about science. Until then, I’ll rely on encyclopedias … and scientists.

Scott Leffler was really bad at science in school … except political science. He did okay at that. Please follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Scott Leffler was really bad at science in school … except political science. He did okay at that. Starting next week, find his column in Friday's paper. And please follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.