01 December 2010

Reverse dumpster diving: Republicans and National Science Foundation spending

Michael Faraday, the story goes, was once asked by a politician what good electricity was. Faraday reportedly said, “One day, sir, you may tax it.”

This might explain why the American Republican party is uninterested in science,  since so many of them seem to see no benefits to any taxation, ever. Meanwhile, Republicans are asking people to look for “wasteful” projects in the National Science Foundation.

What is bothersome is that the web page is very... directed. There is a preconceived idea about what is “wasteful.”

In the “Search Award For” field, try some keywords, such as: success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus, etc. to bring up grants.

At the end of this, you know a Republican politician is waiting to say, “Look at all the wasteful spending on these subjects that people identified... using the criteria that we suggested they use to look for wasteful spending.” Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What they don’t tell people is the size of the NSF budget. Go look at Jess Bachman’s “Death and Taxes” poster of the US Budget, and find the NSF.

It’ll take a while.

Because it’s hard to see.

Because it’s tiny.

If you really want to save people some money, one could argue that the place to start would be the place where the most money goes. Shaving off a couple of percentage points of the costs of some agencies could well save more than the entire NSF budget.

The site also makes it sound like the NSF is just awarding money to any random crap that happens to be out there. It doesn’t tell you about the entire peer review process, and how these projects represent only a small fractions of submitted proposals.

Third, there is a clear way to submit “suspect” links, but no way to submit a comment in support of the NSF.

Of course, attacking funded research projects is a venerable political trick. Sarah Palin criticized fruit fly research; John McCain criticized lobster research.

While Michael Faraday’s taxation answer fall upon deaf ears in the Republican Party, let me remind them of another version of the story.

“What good is electricity?”

Faraday replied, “One might as well as what good is a newborn baby.”

Oh, Republicans, why do you hate the babies of science?


Bjørn Østman said...

Would a 0.1% or so of the military budget cover NSF's?

Zen Faulkes said...

Let's see... the Death and Taxes poster puts Department of Defense budget at G$713, and NSF's at G$7.424. So NSF is about 1% of DoD, by my quick estimate.