Monday, April 29, 2013

How many politicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

OK, so this post is sort of a reiteration of something that absolutely drives me nuts as a scientist and as a citizen of the US.  But first, a joke:  How many politicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Zero.  If politicians were in charge of screwing in a light bulb, it'd never get done!  Lame joke?  Maybe.  Truthful?  Probably, if not definitely!!

My latest rant comes as a result of some more news from supposedly informed and educated politicians.  The punchline of the story, which can be found here, is that at least two politicians on the hill (probably more) are trying to regulate how science is done.  In particular, Congressman Lamar Smith and Senator Tom Coburn are trying to mess with the rules guiding which grants are to be awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is a primary source of funding for many scientists in academia.  They are essentially trying to make it even more difficult to get a grant by adding ridiculous rules that must be passed by every submitted grant.

In case you didn't read the article linked to above, here are these rules.

"The research must be

1) "... in the interest of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;

2) "... the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers question or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and

3) "... not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agences."

So, basically politicians (who are not scientists) are trying to control how science is done.  I won't go into the reason why science should NOT be regulated in this way, because I already discussed this in a previous post.

Instead, Smith, who is Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has decied that he knows how science should work.

Now, I should apologize for the way that this post started off because not ALL politicians are as ignorant as Smith (or Coburn, who I won't discuss for the sake of brevity).  Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson responded to Smith's ideas by saying "In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF."

My frustration stems from those politicians who try to regulate science and think of themselves as science experts, even though they really have no idea how science works.  Of course, there are other fields, agencies, and operations that politicians try to regulate, even though they are clueless about them.  That frustrates me just as much.  But since this blog is about science, I speak in the name of science here.

So, if you are reading this and understand why science cannot and should not be regulated in this way, please write to your representatives in DC and try to make a difference.  If you don't understand the points I have made here, feel free to post below, and I'll do my best to elaborate.


  1. Might wanna check your formatting on this page... some weird background stuff going on here.

    Anyway, regarding the post itself. As certain anti-science Congress critters have found new and inventive ways of raising my blood pressure, I've been trying to think of a way to force them to take a basic science literacy test before they open their mouths. I have a sneaking suspicion many of them would fair poorly....

  2. Hey Paul,

    Thanks for noticing the formatting. Yea, I am not sure what happened there, but as soon as I submitted it, I knew something was wrong. Anyway, should be fixed now.

    And yea, if you can think of some way for these morons to take a science literacy test, let me know! ;)