Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Putting Science Back In Charge of Science

There's always been an anti-science strain in America, one that places superstition over knowledge and status quo over progress. Many politicians -- memorably the late Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire and his "Golden Fleece Award" -- have used opposition to scientific inquiry as a political tool for budget gamesmanship. Ironically, the founders of our country were a mix of innovators, philosophers and amateur scientists, a fact that would certainly surprise most politicians on the far right.

Thanks to our dear friend P.E.C., we were made aware of this article that captures the response that we should have to those that want to slash basic research, without understanding the far-reaching consequences: fire back at them. Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper and Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, argue in their piece that many seemingly frivolous scientific projects lead to discoveries of immense importance. From research on jellyfish nervous systems that led to breakthroughs on treating Alzheimer's disease, to studies on the sex life of the screwworm which led to saving the cattle industry billions of dollars, crass politicos can do great damage in their ridicule of scientific inquiry. As they point out,
"Scientific know-how, the engine of American prosperity, is especially critical amid intense budgetary pressures. Federal investments in R&D have fueled half of the nation’s economic growth since World War II."
It's fitting, then, that Cooper and Leshner are proposing, in mocking reference to Proxmire, a "Golden Goose Award" for scientists whose seemingly small or even silly experiments in the eyes of politicians have led to great advancements for the world. It's about time.

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