The Politics of Anti-Science

Posted on August 30, 2011  Comments (7)

In the 1960’s the USA had an unrealistic view of how much studying and learning about science and engineering could do. Investing is science and engineering is an extremely wise economic (and cultural) endeavor but it isn’t going to solve all the problems that exist. Somehow today we find ourselves with a large number of politically powerful people we take strong anti-science positions. These tactics reduce funding and support for beneficial research and are short sited approaches to public administration. This is an unfortunate turn of events that is damaging the American economy and will have huge damages going forward.

Thankfully other countries have seen how wise investing in science and engineering is and have more than taken up the slack created by the anti-science community. Two favorite tactics of the anti-science leaders is to try and create confusion where there is none and to turn the focus away from serious matters and instead playing silly political games. The silly games will draw donors and voters so if they care about those things more than the country and the future of the country it is a sound tactic. The damage it causes the country however I would hope would limit the use of such tactics however that has not been the case recently.

‘Shrimp On A Treadmill’: The Politics Of ‘Silly’ Studies

Take the case of the “shrimp on a treadmill.” Burnett says the senator’s report linked that work to a half-million-dollar research grant. But that money actually went to a lot of different research that he and his colleagues did on this economically important seafood species.

The treadmills were just a small part of it, a way to measure how shrimp respond to changes in water quality. Burnett says the first treadmill was built by a colleague from scraps and was basically free, and the second was fancier and cost about $1,000. The senator’s report was misleading, says Burnett, “and it suggests that much money was spent on seeing how long a shrimp can run on a treadmill, which was totally out of context.”

John Hart, a Coburn spokesperson, said in an email that “our report never claimed all the money was spent on shrimp on a treadmill. The scientists doth protest too much. Receiving federal funds is a privilege, not a right. If they don’t want their funding scrutinized, don’t ask.”

What the politicians are doing is exactly what this spokesperson suggests – they are withdrawing from the anti-science culture created by some in Washington: they are moving their research to countries that support rather than attack science. That is a very bad thing for the USA. There are a number of very bad economic policies a government can take. Driving scientists and engineers into the arms of other countries is one of the worst.

If you are concerned about the spending of the USA government, which I am, it is harmful to sidetrack the discussion on extremely minor expenses. It is fine to deal with those minor expenses. But the anti-science community is very obviously not concerned about spending, they devote a huge amount of time and energy to focus on essentially insignificant amounts of spending meanwhile ignoring huge expenditures year after year. If you want to accept their claim that this is about government waste, you are entitled to do so. However, to me it is obvious it has nothing to do with that and is just a campaign to attack science which is doing great damage to the USA and will do even more in the future. We had huge leads in science and engineering centers of excellence. It takes time for those attacking that strong position to weaken it and it takes time for completing centers (in Europe, Japan, Singapore, Brazil, China…) to grow so that they are legitimate competitors (it is true especially Europe has had many such places for decades – and so have others, but the USA’s clear overall lead is rapidly diminishing).

It might be the USA has squandered so much wealth that we have to cut our investing in science and engineering. That I can accept. It will cost us a great deal in lost economic development. And those countries that were not lead as poorly as we have been for decades by the politicians will be able to much more easily build their science and engineering strength by luring those scientists and engineers to countries that value them.

Related: Society is being shaped for us while we are busy making other plansEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomySymptom of America’s Decline in Particle Physics – Shrimp on treadmills, laundry-folding robots, and the problem of ridiculing research (link broken so the link was removed. I am amazed at how large websites can’t even follow extremely basic sensible web practices such as not killing urls and creating dead links)

7 Responses to “The Politics of Anti-Science”

  1. Dave Berrien
    August 31st, 2011 @ 7:19 am

    Sadly, it is “scientists”, not science that are responsible for the skepticism leveled at “science”. This study you cite may have been legitimate, but there are several cultural and political areas where “scientists” have gone far beyond the boundaries of science, and are lending the prestige of “science” in pursuit of outrageous political agendas put forward by those who have no scientific training or ability whatsoever. I refer to the whole global warming fiasco, among other things. Al Gore is NOT a scientist, and carbon credit trading is a HUGE scam perpetrated in the name of science, or with the apparent blessing of science. “Science” has been corrupted by “scientists” who have allowed themselves to step outside the bounds of science, and into the political arena, which is anything but conducive to thoughtful debate or clear discussion. People are skeptical because scientists don’t understand the limitations of science, and some scientists don’t understand their responsibilty to science, and pursue personal agendas in the name of science. This hurts all of us, and science too, as you have so clearly pointed out. The point you are confused about is that you seem to be blaming the politicians, and not the scientists responsible for tarnishing the luster of science. Scientists are human, too, and while you are dusting, don’t forget to dust off the scientists too.

  2. George Lungu
    May 30th, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

    The science has been replaced by pseudo-science. See the public denial of man made warming while secretly supporting the toxic chemical spraying of the atmosphere and the very wasteful ethanol subsidization. The problem is that mainly lawyers and other scientific illiterates have power in Washington.

  3. john ioannis divramis
    August 24th, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

    First we need to reinvent science. Governement spending in some case is revolting, while people have nothing to eat. l believe in general that governements of every nation are anti-science minded. Huge government grants are being spend for science, while we are going back to a new medieval society era.

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