Eric Cantor Wants Our Grandmas to Decide Science Funding
Incredulous. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. House Republican Majority Leader-Elect Wunderkind of the Future Eric Cantor is leading a new project called YouCut, where everyday people get to submit ideas for cutting wasteful spending in Washington, like not printing every bill that Congress votes on (but I thought you complained about not getting to read them? Did you get an iPad or something?). The newest target is the National Science Foundation and their grant review system.
Chris Mooney lays out the basics here, beating me to a blog post yet again (I swear I was working on this last night, I’m a grad student for crying out loud).
This is another example to the time-honored “you know better than those folks in Washington, I’m on your side” faux-populism that has become a major tactic in the modern conservative movement. It’s a natural cycle in both sides American politics, but it’s getting dangerously close to harming science. The NSF peer-review grant system is a cornerstone of American research funding, because it allows for more risky and hard-to-classify pure science than more specific granting agencies like DARPA and NIH. Just like Sarah Palin’s attacks on fruit fly research in “Payyy-ris, France”, when one combines a lack of basic science understanding with folksy comic relief, it’s easy to make a joke out of “computer models to analyze the on-field contributions of soccer players”. What could motivate Americans better than another joke making fun of soccer players?
I’d be hard-pressed to find a single reason that citizen review of NSF grants is a good idea. That’s because it obviously isn’t. That doesn’t really need explaining, and I don’t think the GOP could really defend it if they had to. Focus on this: The current resurgence of anti-intellectualism that Cantor and the GOP extreme are pushing is rearing its head in the climate battle, the stem cell battle, and now grant-review for basic research.
This should motivate every scientist, not just climate researchers and stem cell proponents. It’s approaching an all-out attack on science, a guts and morals vs. brains tactic, and these guys haven’t even officially taken over yet (start penning that sequel, Mr. Mooney). For every challenged research proposal, scientists should be prepared to go to the mat defend American technological advancements, scientific exceptionalism, and global competitiveness of our workforce. Because that’s language that people like Mr. Cantor will understand, and will be forced to support.
The truth is that the whole effort is a big piece of lip-service, a fake community engagement tool designed to make the GOP base feel connected to the decision-making process. Crowdsourced populism, if you will. But if your grandmother gets to vote on cutting NSF funds, then I want a vote on our next defense authorization bill. It’s only fair.