Science and Politics

SCIENCE AND POLITICS….Chris Mooney has a good article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about the demise of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment at the hands of Newt Gingrich and what it’s meant for Congress’ ability to understand scientific issues. Despite its low cost and high quality work, OTA produced some reports (especially on missile defense) that angered Republicans, and because of that it’s not likely to make a return:

Those hoping to revive OTA face a political bind. Most advocates believe the most sensible option would be to create a new office modeled closely on its predecessor. But Michigan congressman Vernon Ehlers, another pro-OTA Republican and a physicist, says that as long as his party retains control of Congress, “reconstructing OTA as it was has zero chance of becoming law.”

This should not come as a surprise. In November 2001, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a lengthy article on “the waning influence of scientists on national policy.” The Chronicle cited the already dramatic rifts between the Bush administration and the majority of scientists on stem cells, climate change, and missile defense.

Over at his blog, Chris adds a few points that didn’t make it into the article. Not only did the rest of world follow our lead in creating OTA-like offices and then watch in amazement as we shut down ours, but OTA was likely a money saver:

In terms of OTA saving taxpayer money, the thinking goes like this. OTA’s budget when it was shut down was only $ 22 million a year — small potatoes, really. Indeed, a bill introduced by New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt would revive OTA to the tune of $ 20 million a year. But by rigidly evaluating our government’s investments in science and technology, single OTA studies could save far more money than this. According to Guston and Margolis, one particular OTA report helped save $ 368 million on computer procurements for the Social Security Administration.

Unfortunately, science is all about facts, which are sometimes inconvenient. And we all know how the Bush administration feels about inconvenient facts.

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