April 5, 2005

Science and the Republican Congress

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at April 5, 2005 5:48 PM

Yesterday's physics colloquium was given by an exceedingly rare specimen in Berkeley: a Republican congressman. Specifically, Representative Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, a Berkeley physics alumnus who gave a talk on science and education policy.

It's hard to believe this guy is from the same party as anti-science loons like Tom DeLay. Ehlers came across as very rational, with an approach to policy that is technocratic rather than ideological. His views on science education, on minority and women in sciences, and on research funding were totally sensible. It's truly unfortunate that his party marginalizes people like him in favor of corrupt theocrats.

(He did slip into a partisan mode just once in the talk, with a bizarre remark blaming Tom Daschle for cuts in the FY05 NSF budget.)

If I lived in his district I'd find it difficult to vote against him—he seems to do a lot of positive things for science policy. But I'd vote against him anyway. Because with one vote—his vote for Tom DeLay as majority leader—he erases all his positive work and drives science backward in America. As long as the theocratic and anti-intellectual contingent of the Republican party is running the country, the outlook for science is pretty dismal.

Coincidentally, Paul Krugman addresses this very issue in his column today, and PZ Myers' commentary is also worthwhile.


Vernon Ehlers is one of the Republicans I actually like.

Ah, Tom Delay... I'll have more to say about him (though briefly) at my MSRI talk in a couple weeks.

Hello from Sydney, by the way. I got here a day and a half ago, and I think my luggage finally made it this morning. (It may be finally arriving at the hotel as we speak.) I have had to do part of my interview in non-optimal circumstances (yet again...) I certainly didn't intead to wear sweatpants and a t-shirt for any of my interview stuff, but it's out of my control.

The campus is _gorgeous_. I haven't had a chance to go to downtown yet (I'm really tired right now, so I'm not sure whether or not I will go tonight; hopefully, I will). On the academic side, despite the presence of certain things that can be quite excellent in theory (which is the reason, besides being in Sydney, that I was interested in the place), I am getting some _really_ bad vibes about how this works in practice.

We shall see how things turn out.

Posted by: Mason | April 5, 2005 6:41 PM

On a related topic, check out the excerpt from Thomas Friedman's new book that was in the Times mag over the weekend. Is there any doubt that this anti-science, anti-tecnology crowd that is in power today is playing right into the hands of the new global economic powers that are just now emerging? The Republicans are becoming the American version of the Taliban from the perspective of global competitiveness. It's stupid. Just plain stupid.


Posted by: Dad | April 6, 2005 9:51 AM

I haven't had a chance to read the article yet, but Congressman Ehlers was clearly worried that the US was going to be seriously hurt economically by falling behind in science. It's too bad he hasn't been able to impress this upon his colleagues.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | April 6, 2005 1:47 PM

His colleagues are giving real Luddites a bad name. It is really striking to me, btw, the parallelism between the Christian fundamentalist antipathy toward scientific thought and the Islamic fundamentalist antipathy toward modernism. However, lately I have found that the former is very good gist indeed for the novelistic mill as I crank away on J Spur 3.

Posted by: Dad | April 6, 2005 2:27 PM

The scientific horror stories also go beyond just funding to what our foreign policy has done. I have colleagues in the math department who can't go back and see their families for fear they won't be let back in, one postdoc the physics dept hired couldn't get into the country "for insufficient ties to Israel" and efforts to push this up the ladder (with efforts from both academics and GT high-ups) didn't work, an internationally prominent visitor to GT was sent back to Germany after reaching the Atlanta airport (2 weeks in a row!), foreign applications for grad school here are way down, etc. etc.

I don't have specific horror stories from other research institutions, but I have heard grumblings that many of them exist.

Posted by: Mason | April 7, 2005 9:00 PM
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