economic stimulus via science

August 16, 2010 at 9:44 am | | news, political science, science and the public, science community

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!

(via Nature)


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  1. and to think he was running for president.

    Comment by Dr. Smalls — August 16, 2010 #

  2. i kinda liked him for president … in 2000.

    Comment by sam — August 16, 2010 #

  3. “The Department of Health and Human Services has sent $144,541 to the Winston-Salem college to see how monkeys react under the influence of cocaine.”

    Gotta say, they could have sent me half that and I’ll bet I could get some human data for them. Also, people high on coke are probably more stimulative to the economy.

    Comment by Chemjobber — August 16, 2010 #

  4. perhaps perusing Henry Hazlit’s Economics in One Lesson would disavow you of having any positive regard towards the multiplier effect. In brief, the stimulus money was taken from somewhere… somewhere where it would have been used productively on its own. Science stimulus and funding in general may be good for the supply companies you mentioned, but the hidden cost is all the jobs not created or destroyed.

    also, watching the following video may change your opinion as to the efficacy that science funding has in stimulating an economy.

    “The Myth of Science as a Public Good”

    Comment by matt — August 16, 2010 #

  5. hi matt.

    one, i own hazlitt’s book. i have read it. and many other anti-keynesian economists (e.g. hayek, rand, etc.). however, those ideas are certainly not mainstream, and generally considered antiquated at best. that’s not to say that hazlitt was wrong; just most credible economists disagree with him and the zero-sum game you describe.

    second, i said explicitly that i am doubtful that scientific spending always benefits the short-term economic outlook. i am very confident that funding science and technology has huge benefits in the long-term.

    Comment by sam — August 16, 2010 #

  6. re: one. most *credible* economists also did not predict the current economic crisis for which the aforementioned stimulus is supposedly needed. the Austrian-school economists saw it coming years in advance. who do you want to turn to now?

    re: two. just watch the first 10min of that video. the empirical evidence is that science funding has negligible benefits in the long-term

    Comment by matt — August 16, 2010 #

  7. yes, very interesting video. not entirely convinced, but i agree that this kind of stuff is something our society should discuss and debate. HOWEVER, we live right now in a neoliberal economic world. neither mccain nor coburn are going to change that. they don’t even want to. they just want to make fun of dem policies.

    Comment by sam — August 16, 2010 #

  8. I’ll give you a for effort, in your attempt to justify the idiotic neoliberal economic world concept.

    However you stop shy of stating the true driving forces behind it, nor its desired ultimate goal.

    The intended globalization of neoliberal economics is an elitist weapon intended to shift the current market from the private sector, to government control.

    One does not have to peer far into history, to see the final result of such a system. The end result would produce the same outcome world wide, as that which existed in the United Soviet Socialist Republic.

    This would shift the primacy of economic individual rights, rules of law and roles of the governments in moderating relative free trade, to a system based on a one world economic policy, which is predicated upon a one world bank and currency system. A system that will fall under the control of a one world government body headed by the global elites.

    Although monarchies, socialism, communism, and democracy have their good points, over all they are always negated by the magnitude of their vile and despotic negatives.

    That is why our founding fathers established the only lawful constitutional government to be a Republic.

    It is also why you are seeing a massive uprising world wide, which when all is said and done will once and for all eradicate the neoliberal economic world concept.

    Comment by Darfur Deng — April 9, 2011 #

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