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'Why are things as they are and not otherwise?' -- Johannes Kepler
April 2, 2005 8:03 AM   Subscribe

"Do not bind the mouths of the kine that treadeth out the grain." "Do not eat the seed corn." Ancient warnings ignored in Bush Administration science policy
posted by orthogonality (25 comments total)

 
Whoops, I forgot the . period at the end of the post.
posted by orthogonality at 8:07 AM on April 2, 2005


How does the administration figure in to your first three links? As far as I can tell from the articles, it's a NIH response to concerns in congress. Even then, what's the complaint? It seems like an argument over two policies that seek the same goal, one being more restrictive than the other. Should NIH employees be allowed to own stock in drug companies or take on paid work from drug companies? I say absolutely not, but I can understand what the argument is.
posted by odinsdream at 8:15 AM on April 2, 2005


odinsdream writes "How does the administration figure in to your first three links?"

For the same reason that if a submarine runs aground, we blame the captain, even if the mapmaker's error was the proximate cause. For the same reason we blame presidents for bad economies.

The House is controlled by Republicans, the Senate is controlled by Republicans, and the White House is controlled by Republicans. Republicans who time after time have shown a disdain for science -- whether stem-cell research or teaching evolution or properly funding basic research.

The point is that science in this country is suffering, and that will have very deleterious effects that will last a very long time. We're losing researchers and we're stopping research. And China and Japan and Germany are not. It's a crisis, and it's being ignored.
posted by orthogonality at 8:23 AM on April 2, 2005


The conflicts of interest in the medical research industry are a disgrace. I, too, lament the fact that the religious zealots in the Bush Administration are busy gutting real science, but NIH setting stricter rules to avoid conflicts of interest is unrelated, long overdue and will improve the quality of scientific research.
posted by twsf at 8:28 AM on April 2, 2005


Whoops, I forgot the . period at the end of the post.
The period's link -- Anyone recall a post last month telling how Germany was more advanced than had been officially made public. The new updated information may have recnetly surfaced by sealed records becoming public. I'm confused you linked WMD as science because bombs would fall under military spending.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:36 AM on April 2, 2005


The Bush Administration has a science policy?
posted by clevershark at 8:45 AM on April 2, 2005


thomcatspike writes "I'm confused you linked WMD as science because bombs would fall under military spending."

My point was that Nazi Germany might have had the atomic bomb much sooner than we did, if a) the hadn't believed quantum physics was "Jewish science" and b) they hadn't chased away Einstein, Fermi, von Neumann, and a host of other Jewish or anti-Nazi scientists who came to America to work on our bomb.

It's a cautionary tale about the costs of disdain for science and scientists.
posted by orthogonality at 8:46 AM on April 2, 2005


heh, I thought voodoo economics was bad, but I must say that in my wildest imagination, I didn't foresee voodoo science gaining traction.

It is beyond absurd that this Congress or this administration would have the temerity to criticize any other body for "conflict of interest," particularly an executive branch that is stacking the deck with corporate special interests.

The next fronts in this war by the American taliban are well underway: science, academia, the judicial branch. Pretty soon we'll have rabid religious groups running them all. We already have the bootlicking mainstream media falling in line - lately, it seems every time I turn on the news there is either some religious charlatan at the bully pulpit or a sensationalistic "focus on faith" series running for the week. Scary and unsettling times.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:14 AM on April 2, 2005


bombs would fall under military spending

Indeed they do.
posted by SPrintF at 9:18 AM on April 2, 2005


The links here cover some varied topics but I acknowledge that science/education are reasonably close fields. I'm pretty sure the CNN + ABC articles are identical. But the fullstop nazi/bomb link is not overly contributive.

twsf - NIH setting stricter rules to avoid conflicts of interest is unrelated, long overdue

I would ask that you cite something on this by way of support. One of the articles linked noted that many or most of the apparent conflicts of interest that gave rise to the congressional enquiry and NIH policy changes were acknowledged to have come from "clerical errors".

Common sense tells us that YES there are doubtless conflicts of interest between private and govermental scientific enterprises. But most of the research and funding are in the public domain and most importantly, peer reviewed by the wider scientific community. Of course there ought not be blatant exploitation of funding sources per se, but the forward progression of most fields of scientific endeavour require close cooperation between private facilities and researchers and governmental agencies (not to mention Universities/Colleges).

I'm hoping that the alternative NIH policies (written by NIH subalterns) that the Directorship are examining at the moment will reign in what seems like pedantic and excessive curbing of the naturual public/private endeavours to forge ahead in scientific research.

What seems most incongruous to an outsider such as myself is, why the Republican congress would be urging for the conflicts of interest policy when it directly results in restrictions on enterprise ??

As for the balance of the matter, namely, Bush scientific policy abberrations - to most of the edumacated masses, that has been very obvious for a long while. I can only hope that the Senate enquiry in response to the USC (leading scientists) 'protesting' document produces some restraining impetus on the very antiscientific administration.

It's all rather depressing. Thanx Ortho for raising the awareness.
posted by peacay at 9:56 AM on April 2, 2005


I'm sorry, nothing personal, but I can't stand that linking, man. Why not go for every letter? Gah.
posted by RockCorpse at 10:27 AM on April 2, 2005


What seems most incongruous to an outsider such as myself is, why the Republican congress would be urging for the conflicts of interest policy when it directly results in restrictions on enterprise ??

Follow the money. What better way to channel research money away from areas that threaten corporations' bottom lines (global warming, ecology) than to put corporations in charge of all R&D.

University research is generally "outside the market", in that it doesn't, theoretically, have to worry about next quarter's income statement. Of course, being "outside the market" is tantamount to communism for the current crew.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:28 AM on April 2, 2005


OT: that phrase (overused by Heinlein) always makes me think "do not bound the mouths of da kine who tread the grain."
posted by Aknaton at 10:39 AM on April 2, 2005


Aknaton writes "OT: that phrase (overused by Heinlein) always makes me think 'do not bound the mouths of da kine who tread the grain.'"

It's from 1 Timothy 5:18. It was a Heinlein favorite too? Which books?
posted by orthogonality at 10:53 AM on April 2, 2005


Ok, I'm going to stupidly ask what seems to me to be an obvious question about the first three links again:

Why is it a bad policy to say "If you work for the NIH, you may not own stock in a company that the NIH may regulate or oversee, such as a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company. You may also not accept funding from said companies for any projects you're working on."

I understand it might be annoying to have your employer tell you to sell some stock that might be making you a lot of money, but is there any other problem with the policy? It's an easy way to eliminate a lot of the money pathways that could be easily exploited to reward corrupt NIH employees in exchange for favors. I accept that there are probably lots of companies funding good projects, but I'm questioning this structure entirely. Private entities with a keen interest in the outcome of NIH research should not be funding that research, no matter how well-intentions they are.

Let's be clear, I'm not talking about any of the other links, just these first three about NIH. So, I'm not disagreeing with the "Bush is bad for science" theory. What am I missing?
posted by odinsdream at 11:08 AM on April 2, 2005


odinsdream writes "I understand it might be annoying to have your employer tell you to sell some stock that might be making you a lot of money, but is there any other problem with the policy?"

From the Washington Post article (first link):
"Basically this means anything NIHers do outside -- whether getting paid for it or not, from singing in a jazz group to selling art or jewelry, from volunteering at charity organizations to membership in a school or community organization to developing their own small business completely unrelated to biomedical science -- requires prior NIH approval," the memo says. "We find this very disturbing. It is intrusive and scary. It suggests the NIH owns our lives away from work."
Sure, control conflicts of interest, but do it in a way a) that doesn't subject government scientists to this unrelenting control of their personal lives and b) do it in a way that doesn't make it incredibly difficult to attract and retain competent scientists.

If a private corporation were doing this and you were a stockholder in that corporation , you'd say "Great goals, but we're going to go out of business if we can't keep good scientists working here."

Well, if you're a U.S. citizen, the government is (supposed to be) your company and you're a voting stockholder. And your country is doing its best to run itself out of the science business, which will have all sorts of consequences -- bad consequences -- for the country and for you the citizen-shareholder.

I don't disagree the goals are good (although like madamjujujive I question the sudden concern of a Congress famous for coddling corporations) -- but if we achieve the goals and destroy the nation's capacity for research and development, we lose.
posted by orthogonality at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2005


b) they hadn't chased away Einstein
I've heard the US government initially thought nothing of him.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:29 AM on April 2, 2005


odinsdream said "What am I missing?"

Mutual funds and pension plans may carry investments which present a conflict of interest. It's not always easy to specify (or enforce, for that matter) a policy that says you can buy stock A not not stock B.

That said, a job at NIH is fairly cushy, as far as work goes for investigators. I don't mind the new rules so much as they add a significant amount of clarity to what was heretofore a pretty free-for-all, laissez faire arrangement (in every sense of that term).

One link I found missing in Orthogonality's FPP was recent news regarding allegations about the USGS falsifying data regarding nuclear waste disposal safety. This is not the first time the USGS is being used to further the Bush administration's secretive energy policy ends in the name of profits, forgoing scientific process along the way.

The more coverage on this topic, the better.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:31 AM on April 2, 2005


"outside the market" is tantamount to communism for the current crew.
I understand what you are saying Heywood Mogroot - it's a de facto way of downsizing the NIH's role.

I had been giving some thought as to just why the government should have any role at all in the processes of scientific research and why the market place (the cynic in me might say 'friends of the administration') shouldn't make all these funding and R&D decisions unfettered.

But I quickly remember that private enterprise's committment to maintaining a steady level of funding/research (let alone being within the bounds of ethical/environmentally sound behaviour) is always subject to whim and economic volatility. With such a rationale you can be sure that there would be a squeezing out of scientific advancement when other market places offered a potentially greater return.
And even when things were relatively rosey there would be funnelling of expert training to meet profit driven short term goals and consequent contraction of the magnitude of scientific research overall. Not all research turns a profit, that's true. But advancements don't just materialize - they need the 'leg work', which often involves failure along the way.
Private R&D has a great role to play but I think it's pretty well historically established that the scientific community as a whole are better enabled and protected more successfully when there is a significant role for government from the outset. And without some form of protection (permanent govt. institutions, laws and guidelines, ethics overviews etc) then a whole lot less young people would be attracted to or see a stable future in the scientific world.
posted by peacay at 11:46 AM on April 2, 2005


I had been giving some thought as to just why the government should have any role at all in the processes of scientific research and why the market place (the cynic in me might say 'friends of the administration') shouldn't make all these funding and R&D decisions unfettered.

Easy - so we can pursue discoveries which may not be profitable, but will be extremely beneficial. Discovering a cure for AIDS, cancer, or simlar will destroy the market for treating these diseases. Sure, you can sell the cure instead, but do you think a government is going to allow a corporation monopoly over such a product? (Well, in the States, maybe...) There isn't a lot of money in cures. This is why we get another new Prozac and Viagra every 6 months instead.
posted by mek at 12:06 PM on April 2, 2005


peacay said, "I had been giving some thought as to just why the government should have any role at all in the processes of scientific research and why the market place (the cynic in me might say 'friends of the administration') shouldn't make all these funding and R&D decisions unfettered."

The government does the unprofitable basic research that corporations do not want to do. This is used as a foundation of knowledge from which Big Pharma (among other oligarchies) dips, to develop the next blockbuster baldness cure. Essentially it is corporate welfare, with some elements of original, clever work found here and there.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2005


Good points mek.
Thanks for the links AlexReynolds.
The Register do themselves a disservice by referring to "Bozo's Big Oil Texan backers" - damn, I got hauled over the coals by referring to Bush as shrub in an FPP the other week - you'd think The Register would keep it a bit more professional than some scruffy itinerant MeFi poster, irrespective of how much ridicule is deserved.

And on prev: AlexReynolds: corporate welfare - oh god....don't be bandying around terms like that IRL - that tune will play nicely at the far Right's end of town.
posted by peacay at 12:35 PM on April 2, 2005


This is a chilling little nugget:

Because of these demographic changes, the growth of the labor force will be down to just 1% annually by 2015 and down to 0.2% by 2025, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, we need to make sure that every young person in this country can be productive. The practical reason is that they will be needed by the economy. And if you anticipate retiring before all this comes to pass, think of who (and how many) will be contributing to your Social Security.

I'm conflicted about the NIH rules. On the one hand, they do seem quite harsh, and too far on the side of caution. On the other, I'm not sure I agree with the Wash Times oped piece that just dismisses concerns of conflict of interest out of hand. In my field there is a lot of evidence that both adverse reactions and disconfirming evidence have been left out of papers written about psychotropic medications. We all know about the more recent FDA revelations (which orthogonality linked to in some other thread), but there are also major NIH studies about efficacy that have been presented as slam-dunks for meds where the studies actually show that meds may not be that helpful, or at least no more helpful than therapy alone. Predictably the researchers and authors have pharma ties and conflicts. Given what we are coming to learn from the FDA debacle, that seems like a serious breach of the public trust, and also belies the Wash Times oped piece.

The study I'm specifically referring to is the MTA-Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD. Researchers Jensen and others have pharma conflicts. Reference should be at Integrity in Science Database.

Of course the general anti-science trend makes me heartsick.
Another good post orthogonality.
posted by OmieWise at 2:45 PM on April 2, 2005


Thanks to AlexReynolds and OmieWise for the great additional links.

Here are two more I wish I'd known about to add to the post: Report Says Pentagon Spending on Weapons to Soar and NASA: Hubble headed for 'deorbit only' [that is, they're letting it crash and burn].

So to sum up: millions for Pentagon weapons plans funded in part from cuts to basic science, and a general disdain for science, teaching science, and scientific integrity.

We'll be paying for this, and not just in dollars, for generations to come. If you've got kids who want a good science education, time to start teaching them Chinese.
posted by orthogonality at 4:22 PM on April 2, 2005


> crash and burn

No, no, no. Remember, FIRST burn, THEN crash ....
posted by hank at 5:48 PM on April 2, 2005


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