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Republican War on Science


Who else is excited for the upcoming full Republican frontal assault on the National Science Foundation for daring to research issues that don’t mesh with current Republican priorities?

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  • Apropos: someone correctly uses a Galileo maybe-quote.

    • Yeah, that was great.

      • c u n d gulag

        Great X’s infinity!

        That, and I bet Schilling didn’t have a clue what it meant!

        • Davis

          Yes, probably the best tweet ever.

    • Porlock Junior

      Actually, it’s highly unlikely that he said it in those circumstances. If he had been heard saying it, he’d have got a free express ticket to the stake. (Or, as the Chinese government wouldn’t want you to say, a ride in the auto-da-fe.)

      However, the story that this anecdote was invented a century later is also wrong. There is undisputed evidence that the phrase was in circulation — in connection with Galileo — a couple of years after Galileo’s death. So there!

      Bring back Parson Weems! Maybe he’d heard an old anecdote about Washington’s childhood.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    i don’t think it’s about a “lack of trust in science” so much as an unwillingness to let something fuck with their preferred methods of making money

    • heckblazer

      I actually read through the spreadsheet of questionable projects compiled by Rep. Lamar Smith’s staffers, and most of them don’t challenge business interests in a concrete way. We’re not talking research into, say, pesticide contamination of fodd here. Archaeology isn’t the first or even the fifth discipline I think of when it comes to threatening the profits of big business, yet list includes archaeology projects in Russia, Belize, Mexico and Ethiopia. Instead I’d describe the overriding theme as the projects sounding ideologically suspect; those aforementioned archaeology projects are all studying the origins of stratified societies.

      • Mike G

        The only archaeology Republicans like is proving the existence of Jesus or searching for Noah’s Ark on Mt Ararat. Real history threatens their favorite historical fairy tales.

      • Hogan

        I actually read through the spreadsheet of questionable projects compiled by Rep. Lamar Smith’s staffers, and most of them don’t challenge business interests in a concrete way.

        I’m guessing they also don’t promote business interests in a concrete way. Archaeology projects in Belize aren’t likely to bring anything to market, which is the only legitimate purpose of publicly funded science research. (Which is to say, government’s function here is to spare private businesses the time and expense of doing their own research.)

        • Warren Terra

          Yeah, I think a lot more of this is about the Culture War and posturing about Waste-Fraud-N-Abuse than it is a need to protect Koch industries from reports they’re releasing carcinogens.

          • Linnaeus

            There’s been a mistrust of science among some sectors of the right wing for a very long time. Much of that stems from an identification of science with liberal (or even radical) thinking and the sense that science threatens established values, norms and order (which is not always true, of course).

            • guthrie

              I recall reading that about 40 years ago, scientists were pretty split, Republican- Democrat. Now they are majority Democrat, except for some cranky old gits. Obviously you and I think the Republican party moved away from science; I’m not sure if republicans have even noticed, or care, or have any explanation for it.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                i don’t think that we can really say the republicans moved away from science in general- i’m thinking of monsanto, et al, with the gmo stuff, and big oil’s constant refining of their methods, things like that. but archeology or “soft science” (which might not be a thing but i hope people get what i mean) doesn’t put $ in their pockets, so in their eyes its a waste

                • Do they even care about technology? They care about whatever tech can be motioned for maximum value today, and not for anything else that i can see.

                  ETA: this belongs below Hogan’s time-traveling comment posted at “3:14PM”.

                • Hogan

                  The Republicans are more about technology than about science. Science is a tool to help corporations make more money; if it’s not doing that it’s a waste of time. That’s not what scientists tend to mean by “science.”

                • Hogan

                  Not about technology as such, no–technology that can be brought to market. See, e.g., the internet, which no one in business gave a shit about until government money developed it to the point where it could be monetized, when suddenly it became the greatest example of free enterprise at work EVAR.

                  See also medical research, whose purpose is to discover treatments for the ailments of people with money. This is why you can get boner pills on just about any street corner while the Ebola vaccine sits on a shelf gathering dust.

                • Linnaeus

                  but archeology or “soft science” (which might not be a thing but i hope people get what i mean) doesn’t put $ in their pockets, so in their eyes its a waste

                  Yes, and I’d say it goes even further than that. Conservatives tend to see the social sciences as biased toward the left: they’re meliorist at best and radical at worst. They provide intellectual justification for left-wing social engineering that inhibits freedom (if you’re of a libertarian bent) or undermines social order (if you’re of the more traditionally conservative view).

                • JL

                  They don’t appear to like science in general, though, even science that’s not obviously opposed to their political interests the way climate science is. Look at the periodic invocation of fruit fly studies as something that’s obviously WasteFraudAbuse. Look at Bobby Jindal’s comments from a few years back about volcano monitoring. Look at Coburn’s weird obsession with crustacean research or mockery of research on how robots interact with complex objects.

                  They might support GMOs in the abstract, or support Monsanto, but I doubt they support the efforts of, say, basic genetic engineering researchers, whose work often involves funny-sounding model systems like yeast and fruit flies. They just don’t understand how science works. They don’t understand that even to get the business innovations they claim to want, this basic stuff is necessary.

                • Pat

                  Well, with science you have to think about things, and take stuff apart, and question your assumptions. You can get great papers out of questioning other people’s assumptions, too.

                  Maybe Republicans just find the whole idea to be useless and frightening.

              • Warren Terra

                I recall reading that about 40 years ago, scientists were pretty split, Republican- Democrat. Now they are majority Democrat, except for some cranky old gits.

                I think it depends on what you mean by “scientist”. For academic laboratory scientists, this is certainly my experience – you’d be hard pressed to find an experimental biologist who can stand the Republicans – but once you get to computer scientists, engineers, and doctors I’m less certain. And I’d not be surprised if Chemistry and certain flavors of Geology and Physics had more Republicans.

                • Porlock Junior

                  Having credentials in the subject myself, I must reiterate that any discipline that has “science” in the name isn’t one.

                  What the engineers’ and doctors’ excuse is, I leave to them.

                • JL

                  Academic computer scientists, in my experience, are pretty anti-Republican. That’s not the same thing as saying that software engineers are.

                • Pat

                  Forty years ago, a lot of scientists were employed doing rocketry and aeronautics. Those guys had a much closer tie to the military industrial complex and were probably much more right-wing then today’s cloners.

                • Academic computer scientist here! I think y’all know where I stand. ;)

                  All the ones I’ve discussed politics with either in the US or the UK are pretty liberal to leftist. But I’ve at least read some who were pretty right wing.

                • Philip

                  My personal experience is that there are a lot of software engineers/non-academic computer scientists who are relatively conservative, but still vote blue because they don’t hate gays and they generally support science (modulo some unfortunate AGW skepticism).

          • Derelict

            Pretty much this. Especially when you consider that most Rightwingers (and an astonishing number of Republican congresscritters) have only a vague idea of what the federal budget consists of. Questionable science expenditures make up at least 50% of the budget. Another 50% is welfare for Blacks, while another 50% is foreign aid to Muslim countries. Yet another 50% goes to the NEA, while unions and teachers soak up another 75%. Is it any wonder that America is so poorly defended when the Pentagon budget is a mere 4 or 5% of federal spending?

            • tsam

              No wonder we have 1.6 billion of debt for every man, woman and child in the country!

          • Bruce B.

            Archeology interferes with development, though. One of the standard discovery stories is “they were digging for a new storefront/mall/etc. and a worker stumbled onto this thing”, and then the money-making work stops while science happens and maybe for a good long while afterward. To a certain class of soul, that’s intolerable.

            • Richard Gadsden

              My absolute favourite of these is the discovery of the Harbour of Eleutherios in Istanbul. Amongst other things, they found 35 ships – including the only Greek triremes ever found.

              The construction project that got a five-year delay as a result: the first non-Russian rail link between Europe and Asia, a key element in the new freight rail link the Turkish government nicknamed “the Iron Silk Road” that will connect Western Europe and China (eventually, probably somewhere in the 2050s).

  • Joe_JP

    Sen. Lamar Alexander says springtail research is secure.


  • JL

    Reading through the summary of the FIRST Act, which is a mishmash of things that seem fine/good, inexplicable things, and bad things, one that jumped out at me was “Authorizes the NSF Director to increase funding for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program (or any successor) over the previous fiscal year’s funding level only at the same rate as a corresponding funding increase for the NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program (or any successor).”

    Now, having been funded for my first two years by an NSF IGERT, and having been ineligible to apply for an NSF GRF because of their ridiculous and inane restrictions on having previously done part-time graduate work, I am pleased that somebody out there likes the IGERT program and wants it to be competitive with the GRFP, though as with some other good things I think it’s obnoxious that it was tacked onto a bad bill. But what I can’t figure out is why. I see no obvious political benefit to either Democrats or Republicans. I see no obvious reason why the IGERT program would be considered more politically palatable than the GRFP regardless of one’s politics.

    This one also jumped out at me:

    “Amends the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to call on the NSF to collaborate with the Israel Science Foundation.”

    Some people can manage to turn literally any issue into a discussion about their hobbyhorse.

    Other observations: Some folks in Congress really like neuroscience, collaboration with private businesses, and, for some reason, scientific prize competitions. Some people in Congress like networking and IT better than supercomputing. Some people in Congress think that “cloud computing” is a new thing that scientists and engineers don’t already know about, instead of a buzzword for something that has been around for ages. Some people in Congress really hate current scientific funding models, probably for different reasons than scientists do.

    • Pat

      I think they are suspicious of peer review panels that rank grants according to what scientists think is significant and innovative.

  • Donalbain

    I like to think that Republicans are doing me a favour. With their war on research, they are removing any incentives I would have to move to a corrupt, racist nation at the end of my PhD. Making the moral choice will be much easier if I don’t stand to benefit in my career from the immoral choice.

    • postmodulator

      Yep. Now all you have to do is find a non-corrupt, non-racist nation to move to instead.

      Keep us posted on how your search goes.

  • tsam

    I’ve been saying for years that not spending millions of dollars to prove the existence of angels and ghosts has been a missed opportunity.

  • The comments over there are instructive. Even when Politico bothers to feature an informative article, there’s just five thousand people babbling something along the lines of “Global warming fraud! Odumbo! Benghazi! GRUBER, LIBS! GRUBEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRR–”

    Oh, and there’s even a Clenis joke in there. Fresh material.

    • tsam

      I can’t resist a good Clenis joke. But the boogeyman shit is so fucking tiresome.

      Facebook post today was aimed at getting Congress to do something for veterans besides use them as political pawns. Half the comments implore the government to help vets before illegals. Further proof that irony is so dead it’s like a dead horse that has been beaten by Benghazi, Fast and Furious.

      • weirdnoise

        I guess they think the government can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

    • Woodrowfan

      Politico comments are almost always depressing.

  • MattT

    I’m thrilled. I also look forward to a return to faith based social welfare.

    • Linnaeus

      Sad thing is that I know a few too many people who would say that what the Buccaneers are doing is a good thing.

    • JKTH

      In a system labor experts are anyone with a shred of decency is calling “outrageous,”


  • Bruce Vail

    Of, course the National Science Foundation was created as a Cold War tool to develop the means to kill commies.

    • Hogan

      Same with the interstate highway system–it was a national security measure. Basically, you couldn’t do anything in the ’50s and early ’60s without relating it to the Cold War.

    • Linnaeus

      Before the NSF was established, there were two different proposals for it. The one most people know of is based on Vannevar Bush’s idea of a more narrow foundation, whose resources would generally go to elite universities (he called it “making the peaks higher”) , and would support basic research. Oversight would be handled by scientists. There was an earlier proposal by the West Virginia senator Harley Kilgore that was much broader in scope: both basic and applied research would be funded, resources would be spread to as many institutions as possible, oversight of the institution and its research would include non-scientists (and they would have a more active role in determining what to support) and the public would hold any patents resulting from publicly-funded research.

      As you might guess, Kilgore’s idea ended up being discarded for the most part, and the creation of the NSF more or less followed Bush’s vision.

  • Trofim Lysenko did not die in vain (he died in Moscow).

    • Joe_JP

      I believe this comment is now banned in China.

  • DocAmazing

    Though this is surely extreme, the seeds of this sort of thinking are deeply embedded in the soil of Congress:


    • jim, some guy in iowa

      from back in the days when democrats could effectively pander to the rubes and hicks

      • postmodulator

        Proxmire, a good liberal in a lot of ways, was used as a cartoon villain in an awful lot of mediocre science fiction of the 80s.

        • tsam

          His wiki bio seems to indicate that besides his aversion to space exploration, he seemed like a pretty decent guy. Anti Vietnam, called McCarthy a disgrace…sounds like an alright guy to me.

          • DocAmazing

            …if you don’t count his pandering over spending on science.

            • “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

          • Hogan

            He was a Wisconsin Democrat who fought against unnecessary defense spending and fought for dairy subsidies. The weekly “Golden Fleece” award was a crass publicity stunt that fed heavily into the Republican “WasteFraud’n’Abuse” narrative that did so much to make Reagan president.

            But yeah, anti-Vietnam, opposed Wisconsin Republican Joe McCarthy (if there’s a lower bar, I hope I never drink there). Could be worse.

  • One [bill] bans the [EPA] from drawing on so-called secret science by requiring the agency to disclose any data it uses in the name of transparency. The EPA has issued air quality rules that drew on major epidemiological studies by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University, for example, but because researchers protected the identities of the individuals who served as subjects, the full data isn’t publicly available.

    Am I reading this right? Is this bill meant to ban the use of any study that redacts the names of its research subjects?

    • runsinbackground

      What is the justification for that, other than “‘secret science’ sounds cool”? Are they afraid that not being able to correlate the names of subjects with voter-registration rolls will lead to viewpoint bias in cancer research?

      • Derelict

        The justification is that these balloonheads don’t understand how science works. If the study’s so good, why are the participants hiding? Maybe the participants are just made-up? If Congress can’t subpoena them, congress can’t intimidate them verify their stories!

    • Area Man

      That made me do a spit-take too. Disclosing the study subjects’ identities and conditions is a blatant violation of basic research ethics. And what are the Republicans hoping to learn from knowing their names? Are they dumb enough to think there’s a super-secret dataset, showing that coal emissions are good for you, if only they dig back deep enough?

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “what are the Republicans hoping to learn from knowing their names?”

        Malkin’s Flying Monkey Countertop Inspectorate needs to double-check the subjects, to see that their fully informed of the ‘consequences’ of making RWNJ’s uncomfortable.

  • Davis

    It’s the familiar anti-intellectualism. Once again, Richard Hofstadter is relevant.

  • n00chness

    The pattern in abundantly clear.

    1) Identify a handful of “abuses” in the targeted government program. It makes no difference if the “abuses” indicate a systemic problem or not; the point is to Rally the Base and generate a Call to Action.

    2) Pass legislation in response to the Call to Action that is as pro-business, anti-government and ideological as you can make it.

  • bobbo1

    “At the same time, however, researchers and their advocates in the Democratic caucus are taking increasingly aggressive stances of their own”

    Both sides do it!!!

  • joe from Lowell

    I actually am looking forward to that frontal assault, in the same way I’m looking forward to the argument over immigration.

    At the same time, however, researchers and their advocates in the Democratic caucus are taking increasingly aggressive stances of their own: Rather than answer GOP objections one by one, or brush them off, they’re making a larger issue of what they see as heavy-handed interference based on ideology rather than methodology.

    Anti-science goes so well with anti-immigrant and anti-contraception in painting a picture of the Republican Party for the next election campaign. Please proceed, guvnah.

  • j_kay

    It’s so important that before Europe started their EuroNSF, all the great European Universties had nothing to contribute in science or engineering, and their best researchers came here.

    In practice, the best of New Deal Kilgore and Bush both won. $s go EVERYHERE the ideas are, not just usual suspects the Ivies. Both basic and applied research are in. And, yes, the Bush was RIGHT about scientist-guided research, because whom else has the scientific method training – the only thing he won on?

    Bruce Vail:
    No, you’re confusing it with DARPA. NSF’s about every kind of research, everything from computers to physics all ALL science and engineering. DARPA’s first letter is ‘D’ for Defense, and has funded the Internet and robots.

    • Lee Rudolph

      There’s a comparative lot of NSF money for robotics (I even got some, for a few years).

      Re: DARPA, my favorite bumper-sticker of all time (spotted on a bumper on a car in the iRobot parking lot) read (approximately; my memory isn’t what it should be) “In case of Rapture, this car wins the DARPA Challenge”.

  • BethRich52

    New regulations!?!? I thought Republicans didn’t like regulations. Oops! They only regulate things they don’t like.

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