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Cheap shots by top lawmakers show ignorance of research progress

I was fairly disgusted today to read Chris Mooney's report in the blog Science Progress (a project of the think tank the Center for American Progress). Not because Mooney's a poor writer or because I disagree with his premise. On the contrary, the phenomenon he describes is all too familiar: that of politicians using their positions to attack and deride specific research projects as a waste of time and/or money.

The culprits this time around, Mooney writes, are Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). Their targets are 100 grants funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Grants studying plant fossils in Patagonia, patterns of malt liquor and marijuana abuse in young adults, condom use in young men and the learning patterns of honeybees and others are singled out as examples of wasteful spending. Read Mooney's report for an example of the sarcastic way these Senators attack federally approved research conducted by highly trained men and women. They also completely overlook the economic stimulus efforts inherent in the allocation of these grants. (For a really nice round up of Stanford Medical School's ARRA grants, complete with reports as to jobs added or maintained, visit our stimulus website . Working on that site probably saved the jobs of a number of people in my office!)

I'm particularly bothered by this because of an article I wrote for a recent issue of Stanford Medicine magazine about the state of basic research in this country. In fact, the whole issue was devoted to basic research. The gist was that, although it's sometimes hard to justify spending public money to investigate, for example, the sexual life of worms, the findings nearly always translate into something larger than the whole. Scientist after scientist, from all levels of government and academia, echoed this in my interviews with them, and to hear politicians cavalierly dismiss the opinions of these and other experts to curry political favor makes steam come out of my ears. I'm reminded of ignorant school bullies who stuff hard-working students into hall lockers for laughs in an effort to distract from their own inability to understand their algebra homework.

But enough about me. Go read it yourself and see if you have the same reaction. Then come back here and tell me about it.

Via Science Progress

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