The full House has now passed a new America COMPETES Act, which sets funding priorities for scientific research at several government agencies. While ostensibly intended to make US research more globally competitive, the bill would take some budgeting decisions out of the hands of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and instead allow Congress to set its research priorities.
In keeping with previous Congressional attacks on research, this one would target the social sciences at the NSF, cutting its budget by nearly half. Also targeted are the Earth sciences, which would take a 12 percent hit (a separate bill is contemplating even more drastic cuts to geoscience research at NASA). Environmental research at the Department of Energy would take a 10 percent cut, as would the Advanced Research Projects Agency‐Energy, a high-risk research body modeled on DARPA.
A Nature News report on the passage also notes some unusual provisions. All federal agencies would be prohibited from using DOE research on fossil fuels to set government regulations, undermining the ability of the government to generate an evidence-based foundation for action. And the bill singles out climate change when calling for agencies to avoid funding research that overlaps with any done by other departments.
The picture above is an oil slick from the Gulf of Mexico. This sort of satellite picture may well disappear as members of Congress simply say they will not fund research that looks at the Earth. Or that examines the use of fossil fuels. Or that looks at innovative energy approaches.
For political reasons, not scientific.
Congress continues to go against the principles it has followed for 50 years regarding scientific research in the US. Instead of letting researchers direct the science, following wherever the data takes them, we now have politicians saying that there are some things we must not look at.
We cannot look at.
It is working as expected.
These politicians do not care about accurate data, facts describing the world around us. Because doing so will possibly hurt their big donors.King Cnut demonstrated that his will could not stop the progress of the ocean.
But Congress certainly can stop the progress of American innovation. By micromanaging our research from a principle of ignorance..
They want to cut work on understanding economics by almost 50% from the stagnant levels it is already at. And Congress is now telling the granting agencies such as the National Science Foundation exactly how much money can be spent in each area, rather than let the scientists of the NSF decide the best way to apportion the money.
Politicians telling researchers what science is approved or not, what can be investigated or not, sounds awfully familiar. But not in America.
Five years ago, this Act was focussed on overcoming the stagnation of research and put the US back on tracks. It was about getting the best ideas in science, new and innovative ones, out there to examine.
Now we have politicians deciding that entire areas of cutting edge research needs to be curtailed. Or not examined at all.
Thus, research on fossil fuels cannot be used to create useful regulations. And cutting edge research on ways to get off of fossil fuels will be reduced. Again.
This bill as passed by the House does little to enhance US research and does much to harm it. Heck, 23 Representatives voted against it because it did not go far enough to restrict research.
We are seeing Congress decide that there is one huge area of research – important not only to the people of the US but to the people of the world – which it does not want us to look at.
Of course, what this means is that other countries gain the benefit of the knowledge from their efforts in these areas. They will out-innovate us because they are trying to accurately understand the world around us.
They will gain in knowledge while we simple gain in ignorance. which, as I wrote above, is the plan.
As some said, this is not really the America COMPETES Act but more like the America Concedes Act. We will continue to concede our leadership in innovation.
Meanwhile Congress directs researchers to simply turn away from immensely vital areas of research.
Deciding not to allow the examination of socially important areas of research purely for political reasons or because the answers might impact big donors is a disappointing sign of poor political leadership in Congress.
Actually, I should call them craven cowards. One hope we have – that there are fewer such cowards in the Senate.
Maybe someday more will begin to care about facts, rather than lies. About the real world around them, than the simplified Cargo Cult Worlds they create.
About reality rather than the narratives.
As I wrote several years ago, Nature cannot be fooled and always wins in the end. Will we win or will we be fools?
Many of our leaders hope for the latter, believing that their authority will protect them from what usually comes.
Maybe someday the bandits will lose their hold and we can move forward again. Maybe balance will be restored.
Because we know where this all leads, when political leaders view reality and facts as something they can ignore at will.