Good news, America! The House Science Committee is going to help solve global warming and other problems by cutting the funding to study them! If you don’t have a bunch of scientists getting rich off climate studies, there won’t be a lot of scary data to worry about, and America will be richer and happier. Strangely, they haven’t proposed curing cancer by this simple expedient…yet.
House Republicans offered their visionary solution to our problems in their proposal to reauthorize funding for several research agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy (DOE). Science Insider notes that the NSF reauthorization comes in at about $126 million less than what President Obama requested, and shifts a lot of funding around, slashing $165 million from geosciences, which is where all that pesky global warming information comes from, and $140 million — about half the current funding — from social and behavioral sciences, which just wastes money looking at stupid stuff anyway. Another $100 million gets cut from education.
But some of that money will at least go to some useful stuff, like computing, biology, engineering, math, and physical sciences, which are real manly sciences and won’t go around trying to tell you what kind of car you can drive or how much coal you can dig out of the ground.
Cutting social science funding is especially important to Republicans, because who needs that nonsense anyway? For one thing, some of those studies are politically inconvenient, like an NSF study that found that fewer American households owned guns, but that among those that did, they were buying more of them. Or, as the Boston Globe details, it’s always a good game to find anything that might sound silly — whatever the actual merits of the research — slap a supposed price tag on it, and then mock it as a ridiculous waste of John Q. Taxpayer’s precious money. Why on earth would we want to look at how changes to Medicare affect seniors’ political views? Or know anything about textiles used by the Vikings?
“We have to question spending nearly $700,000 of taxpayer dollars to fund a climate change musical or over $220,000 to study animal photos in National Geographic,” said US Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, in a statement to the Globe. “It’s the role of Congress to make sure we’re using limited federal funds for the highest priority research.”
Of course, what Congress insists is stupid and wasteful may not actually be either. Remember the infamous $3 million shrimp treadmill, a device made out of spare parts that actually cost less than 50 bucks, and was never a study about exercising crustaceans? Instead, it was really studying how pollution was affecting sea life, and putting the shrimp on the teensy treadmills was how the researchers compared healthy marine organisms to those from polluted waters. Which, given the size of the seafood industry, might just be pretty goddamned important.
Democrats will of course try to fight to save some funding where it’s possible, probably with lame appeals to “knowledge” and “scientific independence.” Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, one of the rare pro-science members of the science committee, asked if maybe it might not be a bad precedent to let partisan concerns determine science priorities:
“For a committee that is supposed to be advancing science, we seem to be doing an awfully good job of advancing selective science … It’s been frustrating, particularly of late.”
Kennedy called a Republican bill that would require the NSF to publicly justify all its grants an “opportunistic approach to defunding or attacking certain areas of science that you either don’t agree with or that you don’t want to see what the results might actually be.”
Well don’t you worry, Rep. Kennedy. There’s a lot of good science that can still be done, and corporate campaign funders will let the House Science Committee know what it is that America needs to study. What could possibly go wrong?