Senators McCain and Coburn (who is a physician!) released a political report complaining about stupid stimulus projects. Now, it’s not surprising that Republicans are calling for cutting science funding and mocking silly-sounding science, so of course there are several science programs funded by stimulus money that this report calls out. Here are a couple:
“A Better Way to Freeze Rat DNA”
[S]cientists at the University of Missouri received stimulus funds “to develop freezing protocols for epididymal rat sperm which would allow reconstitution of genetics by using standard artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization methods.” The scientists note that “[o]ver the last few years, our laboratory has generated ample amount of data related with optimal sperm handling.
“Reducing Menopausal Hot Flashes Through Yoga”
“Weather Predictions for Other Planets”
“In a time when jobs are hard to come by, several high school and college students have gotten federal funding to inspire their scientific curiosity.”
OK OK, I understand that some of these seem silly, but when Senators start mocking scientific programs without acknowledging the broader context, those Senators come across as ignorant and foolish. The rat DNA one is especially annoying: Hehe, it says sperm! What, do they get middle-schoolers to write this stuff?
We could make any scientific project sounds silly if we wanted: Scientists try to send light down a tiny glass tube; federal government spending billions to develop satellites that will see where your phone is; some nut is trying to make a horseless carriage.
The point of gov’t stimulus is to get money flowing and jumpstart the economy. Most economists acknowledge that Federal spending has a significant multiplier effect, so spending money on construction projects, scientific research, and infrastructure isn’t really that silly. I can understand how some would question how studying rat DNA could make any money flow back into the economy, but those people would be forgetting about scientific-supply companies like Nalgene (originally of Rochester NY), ThermoFisher (of Waltham MA), Invitrogen (of Carlsbad CA), Sigma-Aldrich (St. Louis MO), etc. I’m sure those and many other companies that employ Americans are very happy about stimulus money going to scientific research!
Still, I do agree that these spending projects should not be beyond reproach. I’m not convinced that science funding is always the most efficient approach to stimulating a national economy in the short run. We should check up on our stimulus funding and try to measure how well each project is benefitting American taxpayers. But what McCain and Coburn have done is lazy—and ignorant. Instead of mocking science because it involves sperm or yoga (or even both), step up and take a mature approach to critiquing our spending policies!
Sorta like McCain and the bears and the projector:
ThinkProgress had the story.
“My friends, we spent $3-million of your money to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Now I don’t know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue,” he said to laughter from the crowd gathered at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California on Aug. 16, 2008, “but the point is, it was $3-million of your money.” (source)
In truth, the USGS study uses DNA to track populations of the endangered Grizzly Bear.
Regardless of what he says, McCain is anti-science and will continue Bush’s attack on science and science funding. At least that’s the stench I smell from him. I don’t think I can take another four years of Republicans, with their misleadership, truth-twisting, and corruption.
NPR had a good piece yesterday about how the two candidates plan to heal the wounds science has suffered after 8 years of the Bush Administration. The good news: they’re both more pro-science than Bush. The main difference between candidates is that Obama backs up his support with promises of more money for science.
Here’s an excerpt:
Obama: He would reverse policy adopted by President George W. Bush that placed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. Obama has also said that he would double the amount of federal money available for scientific research, in hopes of giving American high-tech companies a leg up. Obama has not said over what time period he would double funding, nor where the money would come from.
McCain: He has said that he would support legislation that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and place fewer restrictions on it. But in a nod to the anti-abortion community, his adviser also has said that he hopes to not have to rely on embryonic stem cells in the future. In terms of scientific funding, McCain is sympathetic for the need to fund basic research, but is not sure where the government would find that money.
I understand what McCain is saying: doubling the budget for science means less money for something else. However, I think that we do need to better fund science—in order to promote technological progress and American prosperity. Maybe Obama won’t be able to convince Congress to fully double science funding, but I’d prefer Obama’s breakable promise to McCain’s no-offer-at-all.
[Update: Nanoscale Views beat me to the punch!]
APS is asking for grassroots help in the next couple days to call your Senators and Representative and encourage them to include additional funding for science in the FY08 supplemental:
I am calling today to voice my support for including additional funding for scientific research and science education in the supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008 that Congress and the President will soon be considering.
Consider it, if you appreciate spending tax money on science.
(Thanks for the tip, LSC.)
It’s Clinton for the Dems, and McCain for the GOP.
Like I did with Huckabee, I dug around to see where McCain stood on science. I was glad to find that he opposes the politicization of science. Source. That is, he accepts that humans are contributing to global warming, and that that’s a problem. He accepts evolution. Source. He introduced the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2006, which aimed to improve communication among scientists. His voting record is pro-stem cell research. I can’t figure out whether he wants to grow a budget for scientific endeavors, and his website is still nothing like Hillary Clinton’s website, but I think I’m safe in saying McCain is at least not an enemy to science.
However, he’s been pandering to the Evangelical constituency, and it’s not clear what this might lead to. On the one hand, he’s pushing for energy independence and cleaner energy—although some might buck at this because he supports funding nuclear energy—on the other, he’s hanging out with the Bob Jones crowd who accept 6-day Creationism and believe the Founding Fathers were all devout Christians. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, he would pose a formidable foe to Hillary Clinton, as evinced in the most recent polls taken in December asking who people would vote for between McCain and Clinton:
Fox News: 47% McCain / 42% Clinton
Zogby: 49% McCain / 42% Clinton
CNN: 50% McCain / 48% Clinton
With McCain mildly pro-science and Clinton avidly pro-science, I’d say this poses some risks toward science’s future, but it’d still be better than what’s come before.
The Iowa Caucuses have concluded with Obama winning the Dems’ caucus, and Huckabee winning the GOP’s. What do the Iowa Caucuses mean for science? First, the caucuses are not good predictors of who will win their respective party’s nomination. Iowa gets it wrong about as often as it gets it right:
George McGovern finished second in 1972—the year the modern caucus process started—and still won the Democratic nod. When Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976, he finished second in the Iowa caucus to “uncommitted.” George H.W. Bush defeated Ronald Reagan in the 1980 caucus. George H.W. Bush finished third in Iowa in 1988 and won the presidency that year. Michael Dukakis finished third in the 1988 caucus and won the Democratic nomination. Bill Clinton took third place in Iowa in 1992, with 3 percent; Harkin won 76 percent. Source.
Nevertheless, Iowa is supposedly important in shaping the candidates’ platforms. It serves as America’s veritable test kitchen for candidates’ White House recipes. (Too much metaphor?) Candidates can try out what works and what doesn’t. Obama tried out the ol’ “time for a change” theme, and it seems to have worked better than Clinton’s “I’ve got the experience,” and Edwards’ “I’ve got the compassion” narratives. Huckabee won by offering up the image of a regular Conservative Christian good ol’ boy, over Romney’s “I’m Mormon, but I like to kill terrorists like the rest of you!” approach, Giuliani’s “I am 9/11” slogan, and John McCain’s “I was tortured once, but I believe in a strong….”
Specifically, as to science, as you’ll recall, Sam kindly pointed out that Obama pitched a pro-science platform, but painted that platform in broad and Monet-esque strokes. And Huckabee avoided science, more or less, aside from saying that he opposed stem cell research. To be fair, I dug around a bit more to see what Huckabee’s views were on science. I didn’t find much more. He appears to reject or withhold judgment as to evolution, claiming the question of evolution is irrelevant to the presidency. (I would disagree with Huckabee here. Acceptance of evolution might indicate an amicable view toward science, particularly in light of all the recent hostility surrounding evolution curricula in schools. And rejection of or indecisiveness toward evolution might even more strongly indicate an ignorance, apprehension, suspicion, or hostility toward science. I would say evolution is a “barometric” topic of sorts.) Also, Popular Mechanics quotes Huckabee as follows with regard to energy and climate change:
a.) “Achieve energy independence by the end of my second term.”
b.) “We have to explore, we have to conserve, and we have to pursue all avenues of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel, and biomass.”
c.) “We will remove red tape that slows innovation. We will set aside a federal research and development budget that will be matched by the private sector to seek the best new products in alternative fuels. Our free market will sort out what makes the most sense economically and will reward consumer preferences.”
d.) “If we are energy independent, we will be able not just to take care of our own needs and protect our economy, we will also create jobs and grow our economy by developing technologies that we can sell to the rest of the world to meet their needs.” Source.
I’m guessing this was just a response to Evangelicals warming up to the problems surrounding global warming. It doesn’t seem terribly pro-science. That said, to the extent the caucuses have taught the candidates something about science (and it probably hasn’t), my guess is that it told the Dems that a vague science agenda is preferable; and the GOP, that de-emphasizing science in favor of faith is the smart card. For both parties, generalities are better. Some past elections would suggest as much. For instance, Gore had a very specific and detailed agenda, much like (Hillary) Clinton does now, and he lost out to (G.W.) Bush who called Gore’s approach “fuzzy math.” Similarly, Perot didn’t gain cool points against (Bill) Clinton and (not the banana) Dole when he pulled out his chart with a detailed explanation of his plan. (Nevermind whether it was a good plan).
All that aside, what if Iowa has it right this time? What if the general election is a showdown between Obama and Huckabee? So far, it looks like Obama has the lead, at least according to mid-December polls. Here’s the rundown:
Fox News’ poll (biased?): Obama 35% / Huckabee 21%
NBC survey: Obama 48% / Huckabee 36%.Gallup: Obama 53% / Huckabee 42%.
Zogby (who?): Obama 47% / Huckabee 42%.
CNN: Obama 55% / Huckabee 40%.
So if Iowa is any indication—and it isn’t—then science is on the up and up!
I guess Clinton wins the science race. At least so far. Maybe others will catch up before too long.
Do you want to see the candidates debate about science? Maybe there will be a debate someday, if you vote here:
You can check which members of Congress encouraged adequate NSF and DOE science funding here.
Jordan and Kendall mentioned that Popular Mechanics has helped us along the way by compiling quotes from the leading candidates on several geek-oriented issues, including “science/education.” Don’t be fooled by the number of checks by any candidate’s name. They get checks so long as they say something about the issue, no matter how vapid. But check them for updates.
I should be up front about this: I’m not a fan of Republicans right now. But we should give ’em the benefit of our many justified doubts and see if any of the Republican candidates have anything nice to say about science. From Popular Mechanics’ compilation of quotes, we find a few tiny tidbits:
Rudy Giuliani: “Promote science and mathematics through technical certification or an associate degree.”
Mitt Romney: “Emphasize math and science, while promoting innovative approaches such as charter schools and public-private partnerships, to ensure American workers have the intellectual capital and skills to compete in the 21st century economy.”
“Governor Romney will ensure that the workers of the future have the intellectual capital and skills they need to compete in the new global marketplace.”
Fred Thompson: “Encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Wow. This is sad. And this is digging really deep on their websites. All the Democrat candidates said things like this, but I left out those lamest statements.
There, I gave the Republicans the benefit of my doubt. I gave them a big chance to stand up and say, I disagree with the Bush Administration’s anti-science attitude. But they are all basically silent on the topic. And there’s there another side that indicates that they’re science’s antigonists:
Mitt Romney said, “What became clear during the cloning debate is how the harsh logic of an absolute right to abortion had cheapened the value of human life to the point that rational people saw a human embryo as nothing more than mere research material to be used, and then destroyed.” Fred Thompson “opposes embryonic stem cell research.” And Mike Huckabee said, “I am opposed to research on embryonic stem cells.”
And, in general, the Republicans spend a lot more space on their websites complaining about stem cells and lovin’ on Jesus than ever suggesting that they would be even luke-warm toward science.
They all lose the science race. Lose lose lose.
I really like Biden: I think he speaks his mind and has a lot of experience with good results. Maybe speaking his mind sometimes gets him in trouble for not being politically correct or when his words are taken out of context, but I’m impressed by a politician who doesn’t tip-toe all the time.
I had trouble finding information on science on Joe Biden’s website, but maybe because it has so much impressive information and detailed plans (check out his thoughtful plans for Iraq) and I just got lost. So I emailed his campaign and they responded in a couple days with this (emphasis mine):
Developments in aeronautics, science and technology drive American business and further our place in an ever changing global economy. Joe Biden believes we must make an investment in one of our greatest resources, American innovation, through supporting scientific research. Joe Biden supports stem cell research and he supported the successful effort several years ago to double the NIH budget and believes we should not lose the momentum generated toward cures for diseases of all kinds. He supports continued increased investments and recently joined with those advocating to increase the agency’s budget by 6.7 percent each of the next three fiscal years. Joe Biden also believes that we need a substantial national commitment and would support an Apollo Project of $50 billion to dramatically increase investment in energy and climate change research and technology so that that United States becomes the world leader in developing and exporting alternative energy and energy efficiency technology.
Not too many specifics or detailed plans here, which is a little disappointing. But Biden has demonstrated many years of support for scientific research funding; and his attitude toward science is obviously one of respect instead of the disdain we see from the current Administration.
I think Clinton still wins in the science race, mainly for the details and plans she’s laid out on her website. Regardless, all four candidates I’ve summarized so far (Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Biden) exhibit respect for science and demonstrate—in their words and their actions—that they would support scientific research efforts in this country during their Presidency and beyond.
Here’s a good introduction to John Edwards’ attitudes toward science and toward the current administration (from the Edwards website): “George W. Bush has presided over the most anti-science administration in American history, censoring research and slanting policy—on climate change, on air pollution, on stem cell research—to advance a narrow political agenda.”
And: “The key to our future success lies in our nation’s labs and testing rooms, but federal funding for physical science research as a share of GDP has been on a 30 year decline. The NIH used to fund four out of 10 grant applications; now it funds less than two out of 10.”
OK, so what would John do for us? His campaign website promises to build a new energy economy while cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, better our primary- and secondary- education system when it comes to science and math, expand access to college, strengthen the internet, provide universal healthcare, and remove political requirements for scientific appointments. Here’s an important paragraph:
Supporting American Ingenuity: The most important factor for America’s future prosperity is investment in education, science, technology and innovation. As president, Edwards will make the Research and Experimentation tax credit permanent. The credit has expired or nearly expired 11 times in the last 25 years, discouraging companies from making long-term commitments to research. Ideological debates at NIH about things like stem cell technology have drained resources from promising research. Edwards will increase spending on basic research at the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health and lift stifling research restrictions. He will also modernize our patent laws—which haven’t been updated in 50 years—to provide incentives for research.
This is nowhere near the detail that the Clinton campaign has included on their website. Nevertheless, it seems that President Edwards would turn around the most dramatically stupid Bush policies and attitudes toward science and research. It’s really, really satisfying to read so many pro-science views coming from the current batch of (Democrat*) candidates for President!
* We will eventually write a post summarizing the Republican candidates’ attitudes and planned policies toward science. But it’s really hard to find positive statements coming from any of them so far.
Hillary Clinton is the second candidate in this series. Bill Plait over at Bad Astronomy already posted about some of Clinton’s comments on science this press release; enjoy his analysis and readers’ comments here.
There’s actually a lot of information about science and innovation on Clinton’s website! (And I think most of it is new in the last few weeks.) I’ll summarize by listing the main points. I suggest you go read the details at the Clinton website.
General attitude toward science:
According to her press release, Clinton claims that she would sign an executive order that:
- Rescinds President Bush’s ban on ethical embryonic stem cell research and promotes stem cell research that complies with the highest ethical standards.
- Bans political appointees from altering or removing scientific conclusions in government publications without any legitimate basis for doing so, and prohibits unwarranted suppression of public statements by government scientists.
- Directs all department and agency heads to submit annual reports on the steps they have taken to (1) safeguard against instances of political pressure threatening scientific integrity; and (2) promote openness and transparency in decision-making.
- Reverses President Bush’s new directive that dramatically expands political appointees’ control over agency rulemaking.
- Revives and expands the national assessment on climate change, going above and beyond the requirements imposed by Congress.
- Restoring the science advisor’s direct access to the President.
- Working to re-establish the Office of Technology Assessment.
- Protecting the integrity and independence of federal scientific advisory committees.
- Strengthening whistleblower protections for those who disclose potential instances of political interference with science.
All of this is easy to say and to come across at pro-science (or at least not anti-science); that’s easy in comparison to Bush. But what if she didn’t have that on her website? I think it’s important for a candidate to distance oneself from the current Administration’s ridiculously anti-science stance.
Plans for funding:
Clinton has a very detailed plan for funding science research in the US. Here is her 9-point plan:
- Establish a $50-billion Strategic Energy Fund.
- Increase the basic research budgets 50% over 10 years at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Defense Department.
- Increase research focus on the physical sciences and engineering.
- Require that federal research agencies set aside at least 8% of their research budgets for discretionary funding of high-risk research.
- Ensure that e-science initiatives are adequately funded.
- Boost support for multidisciplinary research in areas such as the intersection of bio, info, and nanotechnologies.
- Increase the NIH budget by 50% over 5 years and aim to double it over 10 years.
- Increase investment in the non-health applications of biotechnology in order to fuel 21st century industry.
- Direct the federal agencies to award prizes in order to accomplish specific innovation goals.
- Triple the number of NSF fellowships and increase the size of each award by 33 percent.
- Support initiatives to bring more women and minorities into the math, science, and engineering professions.
- Support initiatives to establish leadership in broadband.
- Overhaul the R&E tax credit to make the U.S. a more attractive location for high-paying jobs.
- Restore integrity to science policy.
I’m really impressed with this. I can’t find anything wrong with any one of these points. Her plan to increase funding for science is spelled out: 50% for the NSF over 10 years; 50% for NIH over five years and double in 10. The nine-point plan is clearly directed at scientists: who else would care about how many NSF fellowships there are each year?
This is better planned than Obama‘s idea listed on his website. That’s not to say that Clinton would actually do a better job promoting science, but she obviously had someone do some careful planning and research into the entire concept of science funding.
Now I’m really curious to see if Obama and the other campaigns revamp their websites to add more information about science. But I’m not holding my breath.
Out of curiosity, I started reading how the different presidential candidates stand on science, science funding, and research. Some of the candidates even have information about it right on their websites! So I’ll try to convey to you all what I discover. Part 1 is Barack Obama, next will be Hillary Clinton, then Joe Biden and John Edwards. Stay tuned…
There’s not tons of information on Obama’s website specifically about scientific research, but there is this paragraph (emphases are mine):
Barack Obama supports doubling federal funding for basic research, changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology. This will foster home-grown innovation, help ensure the competitiveness of US technology-based businesses, and ensure that 21st century jobs can and will grow in America. As a share of the Gross Domestic Product, American federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970. Yet, it often has been federally-supported basic research that has generated the innovation to create markets and drive economic growth. For example, one recent report demonstrated how federally supported research in fiber optics and lasers helped spur the telecommunications revolution.
Obama also commented on the US patent system:
A system that produces timely, high-quality patents is essential for global competitiveness in the 21st century. By improving predictability and clarity in our patent system, we will help foster an environment that encourages innovation. Giving the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) the resources to improve patent quality and opening up the patent process to citizen review will reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation. With better informational resources, the Patent and Trademark Office could offer patent applicants who know they have significant inventions the option of a rigorous and public peer review that would produce a “gold-plated” patent much less vulnerable to court challenge. Where dubious patents are being asserted, the PTO could conduct low-cost, timely administrative proceedings to determine patent validity. As president, Barack Obama will ensure that our patent laws protect legitimate rights while not stifling innovation and collaboration.
There’s more information on the official Obama website here. But not too much more. Nothing really specific. Still, doubling the federal budget for scientific research would be quite impressive.