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September 29, 2008 12:11 AM   Subscribe

"You know, we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue..." (previously) The infamous bear study bought up by McCain in the first debate is one of his favourite pork barrel examples, but little actual information is given about the study. Here is the website giving details about the project, with more info, a quick fact sheet and a podcast. This is one of the rare times when a candidate will air an opinion on science in a popular setting....

However, several websites have been trying to get into the details of the candidates policies on science and technology. The science debate (previously) looks dead in the water, but they did manage to get the candidates to answer 14 questions by email.

Nature, a leading scientific journal, has a special section comparing the candidates scientific credentials and a section of questions that were answered by Obama but not responded to by McCain. Key quote from Obama "I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated."

A more popular version is "geek the vote" from popular mechanics.

McCain has gained praise for promising to introduce a science advisor, but with 71 Nobel prize winners endorsing Obama and his science plan, it is clear where the consensus lies.
posted by scodger (129 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
186,000: The number of these studies that could be funded with the money spent on the war in Iraq.

233000: The number of these studies that could be funded with the money allotted in the current bailout proposal.

120: The number of these studies that could be undertaken with the money spent on one F-22 Raptor.

I don't give a rats ass about attaching a 3 million dollar research project to a congressional bill. There are bigger fish to fry.
posted by clearly at 12:23 AM on September 29, 2008 [44 favorites]


I was stunned by the bear line in the debate. I was like, "Did McCain actually just make fun of science?" I had to Google it to see what it was about. What a terrifying man.

Moreover, I'm so tired of the discussion Republicans insist on having about earmarks. Small towns in Alaska should have bridges. And unless the governor of Alaska skips work 200 days per year, she should probably have an airplane.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:26 AM on September 29, 2008 [9 favorites]


What I thought was alarming is that McCain clearly doesn't understand the viscious threat that bears represent. Has Colbert taught him nothing?! The study is obviously to help us find their ursine weakness in order to help us defeat them once and for all. McCain clearly just doesn't understand domestic securitah.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:27 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


How many dollars did you spend teaching him to to crash planes?
posted by fullerine at 12:29 AM on September 29, 2008 [19 favorites]


Yeah, let's get rid of earmarks entirely.

Here's a handy chart showing exactly what a huge impact that will have on the budget.
posted by empath at 12:29 AM on September 29, 2008 [16 favorites]


Previously
posted by netbros at 12:31 AM on September 29, 2008


McCain's remark in the debate (the first I'd heard of this bear thing) shocked me too. The tone was clearly "Look at this money we're wasting! On science! What's that ever done for us!".

On of the things that's really hit home for me (as an Australian) during this whole thing is just how proud some people are of their ignorance. As if knowledge and education make someone less able to lead or make decisions. Please, please elect Obama. If only to restore the world's faith in you a bit.
posted by twirlypen at 12:32 AM on September 29, 2008 [6 favorites]


We're trying, man, we're trying.
posted by Naberius at 12:34 AM on September 29, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm reading the e-mailed responses for the science debate, right now. Thanks so much for that link scodger, it appears to answer several questions I had.
posted by thatbrunette at 12:38 AM on September 29, 2008


"On of the things that's really hit home for me (as an Australian) during this whole thing is just how proud some people are of their ignorance. As if knowledge and education make someone less able to lead or make decisions."

I know exactly what you mean, twirlypen, and I couldn't agree more. It's disheartening sometimes that my own countrymen (and women!) find the idea of education a detriment.
posted by thatbrunette at 12:39 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I concur.

I was jarred by that statement. On reading through the project description and looking at the publications produced, I can only conclude that this is a sensible, successful research project. If you want to find out how many bears you have in the area looking at SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in DNA taken from hair samples has to be preferable to just about any other method imaginable. Critically, it doesn't require you getting anywhere near a live bear.

So - McCain's attack on the method 'DNA analysis' shock horror, is groundless. What about the worth of the project in general? Well - this is potentially the largest population of Grizzly Bears in the U.S. Grizzly Bears, as are all large mammals besides us humans, are declining in numbers and so it makes sense to understand the population base for a myriad of really f-ing obvious reasons.

Vote Obama for science.
posted by mr dodo at 12:41 AM on September 29, 2008 [9 favorites]


Sorry netbros, the second link is to your previous post.

I am amazed that McCain would pull a line like that, and it seems he does it often (the main link is from February this year, and contains the exact same line). If he wants to jump on science, he should have chosen a less charismatic animal, I'm sure a lot of his base are fans of Grizzlies, an insect or microbial example would be much better at expressing the "waste" he feels.

That said, although Obama is the clear winner on science, McCain (god forbid) does have some sensible policies if you read his answers. At the very least, he would be more friendly than Bush.
posted by scodger at 12:44 AM on September 29, 2008


It must be deeply galling to be deeply involved in a study like this and have to listen to people like gramps using their misunderstanding of your work to rile the stupids.
posted by mattoxic at 12:49 AM on September 29, 2008 [14 favorites]


The largest brown bear population is in Alaska. Crossing the bridge to nowhere. Russia has more, though. And the Alaska brown bears can see the Russian brown bears because Russia is right next door to Alaska invadin' their airspasez. As is Canada. And the Canadian bears. I could go on.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:59 AM on September 29, 2008 [14 favorites]


As someone who has worked on a project similar to the bear one, I also felt jarred by his statement. But then again...it makes sense considering that the more you know about the environment, the easier it is to see how we are destroying it. McCain and friends would rather just not know.

When he said that I just felt really sad for all the scientists who do this painstaking and often thankless research...including me.
posted by melissam at 1:05 AM on September 29, 2008 [14 favorites]


McCain just lost Li’l Smokey's vote.
posted by homunculus at 1:07 AM on September 29, 2008


What about the worth of the project in general?

They are a protected species and as such anyone who wants to do anything in their habitat has to consult with the relevant federal agency (in this case Fish and Wildlife) and state agencies (Fish and Game) about the impacts of their project on the grizzlies. This would include developers, recreational managers etc. It's kind of a big deal. The agencies can base their recommendations on sound data points and a good understanding of the numbers and habitat usage of the bears or they can......... not because they don't have any money to investigate said populations. In which case they will have to guess, basically. So the expedient and good management of hundreds of development projects, water projects, recreational users, state roads projects, hunting permits, grazing plans etc depend on this data.
posted by fshgrl at 1:09 AM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


For all the problems we have, earmarked spending should be not be an issue in this campaign.
posted by milkrate at 1:27 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's what's particular bizarre about McCain's anti-bear position:
the three examples of spending highlighted in the ad – a “bridge to nowhere,” a study of bear DNA and a museum dedicated to Woodstock – seem chosen more for their impact than for any direct involvement McCain had in attacking them. In fact, he voted in favor of the bill that included the bear study funding; he was absent for key votes on the Woodstock museum (including one on an amendment he co-sponsored); and he never specifically tried to eliminate the bridge earmark and missed some crucial votes on that one, as well.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:53 AM on September 29, 2008 [6 favorites]


McCain was just going for the low-hanging fruit. The US is chock full of people who think all spending that does not very obviously and immediately benefit them directly is bad spending: art is for assholes, bears are for blasting, and taxes are for building roads that get me to and from work faster. If you try to respond with a proper explanation of why the research on bears is important, you'll label yourself an egghead who is out of touch with the common taxpayer; people's eyes will roll, then glaze over, and then focus on something else, maybe the next doughnut, because the degrees of separation between what you're saying and the voter's wallet (or other center of instant gratification) are too large.

The way to win debates and elections is to come up with your own memorable one-line zingers. Verbal bumper stickers. Elevator messages. Stuff they can visualize. Like bears. The only thing people remember from the Quayle-Bentsen debates is the "Jack Kennedy" line. Voters are thinking, "Wow. He knew John Fucking Kennedy! He worked with John Fucking Kennedy! He even calls him Jack! I love this guy!" and then zing, "You ain't no motherfuckin' Jack Kennedy, 'potatoe' boy!" Or words to that effect. Straight to the voter's schadenfreude gland.

have to listen to people like gramps

It's not fair to imply that his age has something to do with it. There are lots of clued-in people his age and clueless people yours. (How old is Palin?) McCain is playing to the shortsighted people of all ages, people who don't want one penny of tax money going to anything but themselves.
posted by pracowity at 2:24 AM on September 29, 2008 [18 favorites]


I remember being 18 and not all that politically aware back in 2000. The first thing I ever heard of George Bush was him mocking Al Gore for talking about numbers.

My first impression- that he was an anti-intellectual idiot- has been born out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:49 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Silly man. Everybody knows pork comes from pigs, not bears.
posted by jbickers at 4:22 AM on September 29, 2008


Bears for Barack!
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:23 AM on September 29, 2008


McCain's attitude toward science is very appealing to the apparently robust section of the US population that have something inside them telling them that somebody, somewhere should be tortured into confessing by inquisitors and burned at the stake for this accursed sorcery and don't really know what to do with those emotions.

I imagine he is also popular with the somewhat smaller segment of the population that secretly fears that somewhere in a secret laboratory deep in the mountains there is an army of horrible mutant Supergrizzlies waiting to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:24 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Scinence iss dumm.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:30 AM on September 29, 2008


And, of course, the results of the study (from the third link): New study estimates 765 grizzly bears reside in northwest Montana (pdf):

“Overall, the genetic health of the population is good,” said Kendall. “With diversity in the population approaching levels seen in undisturbed populations in Canada and Alaska, there is no evidence that population size was ever severely reduced or that its connection to Canadian populations was broken. The genetic structure suggests that there has been population growth between 1976 and 2007.”
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:57 AM on September 29, 2008


If there is the slightest chance of the bears becoming Zombies, we need to know this NOW! I propose doubling the funding levels over the next 5 years.
posted by mikelieman at 4:57 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


McCain was just going for the low-hanging fruit. The US is chock full of people who think all spending that does not very obviously and immediately benefit them directly is bad spending:

Very true. If I read one more letter to the editor of my local paper saying, "[I don't ride the bus | use public schools | use the parks | ride a bike on the trails | etc], why should I pay for them?", I'm going to scream.
posted by octothorpe at 5:02 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


These people are totally selfish, have no concern for the larger organism and are very effective breeders, able to devastate whatever environment they inhabit. Kind of like... cancer.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:03 AM on September 29, 2008


Could a typical U.S. Senator, armed only with talking points, (say, six or eight words long) be trained to consistently "win" debates with a grizzly bear? Assume no element of surprise.
posted by box at 5:10 AM on September 29, 2008 [29 favorites]


As a Montana resident, I want to apologize to you all for breaking the economy with our silly "bear study" thing. We didn't know the country was three million dollars away from total implosion :(
posted by Donnie VandenBos at 5:13 AM on September 29, 2008 [15 favorites]


Republicans love (talking about) lowering taxes, but only if it screws somebody poor or prevents learning about the universe.
posted by DU at 5:24 AM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


I had heard him talk about the bear study before, and the most remarkable thing to me was that in the debate he reused so many of the same jokes from his speeches, including the one about paternity. I mean, if you know that the audience are supposed to keep quiet, you just look stupid when you whip out a joke to silent response, especially a joke everyone's already heard.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:33 AM on September 29, 2008


The problem here is not that we are spending millions of dollars to study bear DNA. That is probably a good thing, and better now, while we still have bears to study.

The issue is that research dollars are being directed via earmarks, which is a horrible idea. Congress should give money to the National Science Foundation, National Institute for Health, etc, who then issue calls for proposals, convene committees of PhD wielding academics to go over them, and then give the cash out to whichever university researcher has proposed the best use of those funds.

That is, we need to have our precious research dollars given out via a peer-reviewed process, overseen by other experts in the field -- not by some congressman sticking in an earmark for the university in his state.

So, as much as I dislike McCain, on this issue, he's right. Funding bear DNA research via earmarks was wrong for the same reason that funding seal DNA research in Alaska via earmarks was also wrong.

(Disclosure: PhD student at a University that receives a whole heap of federal and state funding).
posted by genome4hire at 5:36 AM on September 29, 2008 [18 favorites]


First of all, McCain's "crusades against earmarks" are mostly demagoguery. Earmarks make up a miniscule portion of the federal budget and do not allocate more money, they just redirect already-appropriated money. McCain in the last debate seemed to subtly concede the point, claiming that earmarks were actually just a "gateway drug" to excessive spending, not a form of excessive spending.

However, and this is not to endorse McCain, I can't help but think that the appropriate place for $3 million of funding for bear DNA research is a peer-review study section which evaluates and approves grants for such things, not a member of Congress submitting an earmark. After all, what could a congressman possibly know about whether it is important to study bear DNA or whether $3 million is the correct amount of funding for such a project?
posted by deanc at 5:40 AM on September 29, 2008


what shocked me was McCains plan to FREEZE ALL spending except for the military and vets. Could that not send the economy into its final tailspin?
posted by robbyrobs at 5:42 AM on September 29, 2008


And unless the governor of Alaska skips work 200 days per year, she should probably have an airplane.

She already has one. Her husband flies. That's why she sold the state's one, so she could bill them for the use of her personal one and her husband's services as pilot. Remember this is the ethics governor we're talking about!

Back on track though, I remeber hearing McCain say this and I though, "so fucking what?" We need studies like this.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:42 AM on September 29, 2008


"with 71 Nobel prize winners endorsing Obama and his science plan, it is clear where the consensus lies."

Is that your scientific opinion? Can I see your methodology? What was your sample size, and what have you done to control against selection bias?

I know, I know. You all love the idea of science. A romantic ideal of science. The kind that looks good on a t-shirt. But when it comes down to actual science and all its ins, outs, and noodly bits, you fall apart. You fail to practice what you preach. But hey, it's okay. I know you have an agenda to advance.
posted by Eideteker at 5:48 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


McCain's right! What a fucking waste of money. We could fund killing Iraqis for an additional sixteen whole minutes* with this money! Meanwhile, what the hell has science ever done for us?

*: Well, almost sixteen.
posted by Flunkie at 5:53 AM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's not that ignorance is strength. It's more that McCain, et al, have this belief that the Dungeons and Dragons character generation rules are a pretty close approximation to real life. You have so many points to spend and, if you spent them on book learning you couldn't have spent them on moral character or real-world experience.

There was a meme out there a while back that essentially argued that Obama was "too charismatic" that kind of implied that since he spent all those points on charisma, he obviously had to use wisdom or strength as a dump stat.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:57 AM on September 29, 2008 [18 favorites]


You youngin's. Back in my day, and I'm sure in McCain's day, you didn't have any of these fancy-schmancy "character points". You rolled your 3d6 like a man. Then you pretended that you rolled an 18.
posted by Flunkie at 5:59 AM on September 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


3 million is pretty damn modest as far as labwork goes. My mother does purchasing for a malaria lab and she's probably spent 3 mil on Kimberly Clark Utility Wipes alone. They're just like regular paper towels, but ... sciency!
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:05 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


"with 71 Nobel prize winners endorsing Obama and his science plan, it is clear where the consensus lies."

Is that your scientific opinion?


No.

Can I see your methodology?

N/A

What was your sample size, and what have you done to control against selection bias?

N/A

I know you have an agenda to advance.

*cough*
posted by DU at 6:11 AM on September 29, 2008


The real kicker: As governor Asked for, and got a $3.2 million dollar earmark to study the DNA of harbor seals. Along with $2 million to study crab mating habits.

I was reading about this on TPM and apparently most government research money is distributed by the National Science Foundation. The earmarks are usually political favors, or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 6:14 AM on September 29, 2008


Uh, Eideteker, are you serious? If I had to pick a T-shirt that summed up the last eight years it would be the "Science: It Works Bitches" shirt available that the XKCD web site.

Why? Because the back of the t-shirt includes that curve obtained from the COBE mission which pretty much is a slam dunk for the big bang theory, but Bush still appointed a commissar at NASA to oversee that their work remained ideologically pure.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:17 AM on September 29, 2008


Has anyone linked to the juxtaposition of front and rear covers of this Nature issue yet?

Because I still think it's funny.
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2008 [20 favorites]


On a more serious note, a lot of people have pointed out that (A) earmarks don't assign new funds to agencies, they just make sure that those agencies spend some of their already-existing funds on specific projects, and (B) Congressmen probably aren't the best people to decide how much money should get spent on what scientific projects.

I basically agree with that, more or less. But "scientific projects" are not the only things that are earmarked.

There's a bridge on a major federal highway near my house that is literally falling apart. Has been for years. Every year they do patchwork on it; significant portions of that patchwork soon fall apart again, leaving the bridge in worse shape than when they did the patchwork. Then they patch the patchwork, which falls apart, patch the patched patchwork, which falls apart, and so on, and so on, for years.

I've literally changed my commute to and from work due to this bridge. It's at the very least bad for my car, and I fear that it is actually physically dangerous. I repeat, this bridge is on a major United States federal highway.

Yeah, maybe Congressmen aren't the best to decide how much money should be spent on what scientific proposal. But I, and other residents, have been complaining about this bridge for a long time, and nothing gets done.

Maybe if our government would actually put funds towards infrastructure upkeep, the bureaucrats in charge of those funds would fix this bridge right away.

But in the meantime, goddammit, this fucking bridge is dangerous. If my Representative would put in an earmark to actually fix this bridge, I would be ecstatic.

I fail to understand why John McCain thinks it's so fucking awful that the people can escalate their concerns to their Representatives in Congress.

Of course, my Representative is a Republican fuckhead, so he's more concerned with bombing people than he is with making a bridge in his district safe.
posted by Flunkie at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


A romantic ideal of science. The kind that looks good on a t-shirt. But when it comes down to actual science and all its ins, outs, and noodly bits, you fall apart. You fail to practice what you preach. But hey, it's okay. I know you have an agenda to advance. -- Eideteker

Oh come on.
posted by delmoi at 6:21 AM on September 29, 2008


I'm reminded of Quayle's one brief venture into science during the 1988 debate. "For the first time we are talking about the impact of CO2 to the ozone layer." Um... CO2 and ozone layer are two separate issues.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:25 AM on September 29, 2008


That is, we need to have our precious research dollars given out via a peer-reviewed process, overseen by other experts in the field -- not by some congressman sticking in an earmark for the university in his state.

I can't help but think that the appropriate place for $3 million of funding for bear DNA research is a peer-review study section which evaluates and approves grants for such things, not a member of Congress submitting an earmark.


Ah, yes, because grants committees are above the fray and devoid of any political bias.

Here's the thing, Congress is a peer reviewed evaluation of grants and such. Just as they would on a politically appointed grants committee the more powerful lobby is going to be able to push for more funding. At least with Congress some podunk state school has a shot at getting funding rather than the same handful of ivory tower stalwarts. Maybe what we need in stead of either is a sort of land-grant cash infusion that spreads grant money more equally among the states to be distributed by State level grants committees. That way Montana gets its bear money, but Mississippi gets an equal $3 mil to study catfish maitin' calls and California gets $3 mil to study how awesome this dank kind is bro' or some such.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:27 AM on September 29, 2008


Eideteker's point is not that science doesn't work. His point isn't even that asking scientists for their opinion on politics is a bad idea. His point is that saying "N scientists think X" is meaningless without knowing how many think Y, the conditions under which these data were collected, etc.

I'm sure he's still working on his fully-sourced, meticulously scientific reasoning for why Sarah Palin is the ideal person to have her finger on the nuclear trigger.
posted by DU at 6:28 AM on September 29, 2008


what shocked me was McCains plan to FREEZE ALL spending except for the military and vets.

McCain was just going for the low-hanging fruit. The US is chock full of people who think all spending that does not very obviously and immediately benefit them directly is bad spending:

So: McCain is one of these people, or at least his campaign is trying to directly tie him to the absurdly simple Neanderthal "It's-all-about-ME-baby-YEAH" mindset above with his support for the military/ex-military members (the only organization outside the government itself of which McCain is known to have been heavily involved). I am so afraid he's going to win.
posted by nosila at 6:32 AM on September 29, 2008


Yeah it's the same logic that led him to criticize Hillary for building a 1 million dollar Woodstock museum in a $100,000 per run ad.

Nothing new here...
posted by jourman2 at 6:37 AM on September 29, 2008




Also in the simulation, the majority (54%) of times that Obama loses Ohio, he still wins the election.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:40 AM on September 29, 2008


Wow, I didn't realize 538 had gotten above 80%. That's awesome. Only going to rise after Palin's debate, unless Biden somehow manages to make a martyr of her (seems doubtful to me--she's already an object of mockery and he's sensitive to women's issues).
posted by DU at 6:43 AM on September 29, 2008


Eideteker isn't attacking science fans from a Republican standpoint, he's attacking science fans from a postmodern standpoint, where everything is about your agenda and all methods are equal.

It's the same effect as the Republican standpoint- the denigration of science- but it's far, far more annoying.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:45 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]




Biden just needs to stay on message and let Palin hang herself.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:49 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Actually I think Palin is going to do fine.
kidding, maybe


Are we still speculating on that? I mean isn't it obvious by now that Bush was wearing a push up bra to feel more "presidential." It's what's on the inside that counts guys.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:56 AM on September 29, 2008


Ja. And pushup bras don't come in size 'tiny hidden wireless earpiece,' okay???
posted by nosila at 7:07 AM on September 29, 2008


The bra could vibrate in morse code.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:08 AM on September 29, 2008


Wow, I didn't realize 538 had gotten above 80%. That's awesome.

Which means he has a 20% chance of losing, which isn't very reassuring. I actually think Obama is more likely to win, and I wonder how Nate actually calculates those projections. I mean, is he assuming that undecideds have a 50% chance of breaking one way? Or in line with how people have already broken in a particular state?

But yeah, imagine someone told you there was a 20% chance your house was going to blow up next Tuesday. I imagine you wouldn't feel very assured :P
posted by delmoi at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2008


That is, we need to have our precious research dollars given out via a peer-reviewed process, overseen by other experts in the field -- not by some congressman sticking in an earmark for the university in his state.

While I think that this is generally true, I don't think that it's beyond the pale for Congress to set very specific priorities for scientific projects which intersect with policy goals. In this case, EPA and National Park Service actions needed information (are the bears in fact endangered?) to proceed, so Congress is correct to set aside money for the project "determine population structure for this species in this ecosystem" rather than wait for that to align with the NSF/NIH/whoever else gives money for ecology agenda.

If congress hadn't declared NHGRI to exist we wouldn't have the human genome, and if Apollo was competing for NSF grants it'd never have happened. Earmarking science money isn't always bad.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:15 AM on September 29, 2008


> isn't it obvious by now that Bush was wearing a push up bra to feel more "presidential."

OK but why then was he wearing it backwards?
posted by Artful Codger at 7:18 AM on September 29, 2008


That Science cover is teh awesome.
posted by Mister_A at 7:22 AM on September 29, 2008


delmoi, see here. They assign undecideds based on whether Obama over- or underperformed against the polls in the primaries. The model also accounts for states which tend to vote together. It's all really impressive to me.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:24 AM on September 29, 2008


Which means he has a 20% chance of losing, which isn't very reassuring.

The glass is 20% empty?

I actually think Obama is more likely to win, and I wonder how Nate actually calculates those projections. I mean, is he assuming that undecideds have a 50% chance of breaking one way? Or in line with how people have already broken in a particular state?

Are those numbers available? And I think he had a post about undecideds recently, but I don't remember the upshot.

I have a question for him about turnout models. A lot of his work is focussed on teasing out the real electorate opinion from the mass of polls. But let's say you knew exactly what every person thought--you still don't know the real outcome of Election day.

If you take an exaggerated case, where say Obama had 90% support of the electorate (in actual human beings--not just polls), it seems pretty clear that very few McCain voters would even bother showing up. So he'd actually get 95% or even 99%. That effect would still be present in a 55/40 situation, I'd think. Is it accounted for?
posted by DU at 7:25 AM on September 29, 2008


Eideteker's point is not that science doesn't work. His point isn't even that asking scientists for their opinion on politics is a bad idea. His point is that saying "N scientists think X" is meaningless without knowing how many think Y, the conditions under which these data were collected, etc.

I look forward to seeing an Even-Handed Rebuttal from the Other Side on a Fair and Balanced Expose from Fox News™.
posted by mkultra at 7:28 AM on September 29, 2008


The real kicker: As governor Asked for, and got a $3.2 million dollar earmark to study the DNA of harbor seals. Along with $2 million to study crab mating habits.

So $3 million to study bear DNA is wasteful, but $3 million to study seal DNA is OK. Maybe he just hates bears, like she hates polar bears. They're the anti-bear ticket.

"Governor Plain, your running mate has cited earmarks as an example of wasteful government spending. Could you explain your request for $2 million to study crab fucking?"
posted by kirkaracha at 7:29 AM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


The biggest reason the win percentage is only 80% is because we're far out from election, anything could happen, and historically races have tend to get tighter. If the polls looked the same on election eve, the projected win percentage would be much higher.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:33 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hearing McCain beef up his appearance as a an ethical reformer by mocking a bear DNA study was both the most bizarre and most telling thing I have ever heard him say. He is such a superb ethical reformer that he'll say any damn thing to convince you that he is an ethical reformer, including mock science on national television.
posted by Tehanu at 7:42 AM on September 29, 2008




Also, the "crab sex" money is actually for NOAA studying how to prevent overfishing of crab stocks, since they are an economically important species. Not absurd on its face, and again something that might not be on the scientific agenda but is relevant from a policy perspective. I could also see the merit in letting NOAA decide where to allocate money.

Is JM's still a hypocrite, but federal money for fisheries isn't so nuts.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:49 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I should learn to make bigger comments.

Also, the reason that a zero-earmark design doesn't work is that it leaves too much leeway to the Administration. This administration loves to abuse power and place ninnies in charge, so I could see someone along the lines of Brownie doing a worse job of allocating money. It's funny that the standard I checked Palin against was "not absurd on its face," that that just seems right in politics.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:54 AM on September 29, 2008


So, as much as I dislike McCain, on this issue, he's right.
Perhaps his conclusion that science money should not flow through earmarks is correct. Perhaps. But his reasoning for this conclusion is so heavily flawed as to defy logic. And more importantly, his overall disdain for science is so egregious that this "correctness" cannot be divorced from it.

If McCain wanted to attack earmarks -- all $16 billion/annually of them, aka 48 days in Iraq -- he has a long list of them to choose from. I don't think that there's any reason why we should believe that he chose a scientific earmark at random. There's an agenda at work, it's a continuation of the agenda of the current administration, it's anti-intellectual, it's anti-science, it's anti-progress.
posted by Dreama at 8:10 AM on September 29, 2008


It must be deeply galling to be deeply involved in a study like this and have to listen to people like gramps using their misunderstanding of your work to rile the stupids.

I know, I kept thinking about some poor researcher -- after spending all day doing mind-numbingly tedious labwork -- getting home, cracking open a longneck, and relaxing in front of the TV to watch the debate. And then hearing that little bon mot and being like, "Oh, what the FUCK now."
posted by Greg Nog at 8:17 AM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is an old trick, making the candidate look like a populist by picking on a science program, the cost of which amounts to a very minor accounting error in the federal budget, but seems like big money to Harry and Louise. Ironically, it was popularized by the late Democratic senator from Wisconsin, William Proxmire, who used to issue his "Golden Fleece" awards annually. Proxmire backed off a bit after it was revealed that he charged the cost of his hair transplants (which failed) to the government.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:22 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


McCain Campaign Attempts Palin Makeover: "Some prominent Republicans and senior members of Congress have expressed worries about certain facets of the Palin campaign, particularly that Gov. Palin may be 'overprepared' and not encouraged to be herself, an adviser said."

Yeah, she was "overprepared." That's why her answers were so detailed and cohesive.

Also, Bill Kristol says, "They're supposed to liberate Palin to go on the offensive as a combative conservative in the vice-presidential debate on Thursday." Please baby, pleasebaby, please baby, baby baby please! People aren't looking for her to be more aggressive, they're looking for her to be more competant. Independents were put off by McCain's aggressiveness in the presidential debate, and I don't think combativeness from her is going to help much.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:25 AM on September 29, 2008


Actual link for "Palin Makeover."
posted by kirkaracha at 8:26 AM on September 29, 2008


I was also amazed that he picked on this study during the debate. Was he implying that the "free market" should pay for these scientific studies of animals or that they should not be funded at all? It was a really baffling moment.
posted by mattbucher at 8:30 AM on September 29, 2008


What's the raw data behind that graph? It's purty and all, but what makes up the non-earkmarked spending?
posted by cashman at 8:35 AM on September 29, 2008


Nevermind, I see some of the overall spending numbers - wonder how much of that goes to the military, etc. It'd be nice to see serious detail.
posted by cashman at 8:43 AM on September 29, 2008


I know exactly what you mean, twirlypen, and I couldn't agree more. It's disheartening sometimes that my own countrymen (and women!) find the idea of education a detriment.

Because sometimes it is a detriment -- not all education is created equal and just because someone has degree(s) doesn't make them smart -- it proves they can memorize and reguritate, and you can fake it through a lot of programs.

I look at the current financial crisis right now -- now all those people are educated and look at what they did to an entire industry.

It's like people see someone has a diploma and they think, "Well, he has to know what he's doing" -- and he could be an absolute menace who takes too much comfort in his diploma.

I am a strong supporter of education (I think students should not have to pay university tuition), but we don't always vigorously question what's being taught and through what filters or if we are teaching blind adherence to rules rather than trying to use other methods to get people to think for themselves.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:43 AM on September 29, 2008


This comparison chart from the New York Times, documenting other controversial government expenditures, may help to put $3 million in perspective.

At this scale, a bar representing $3 million would be less than 1/1000th the height of the "grants to localities" item at the bottom, or less than 1/100th of a pixel high, and consequently would be too small to be visible.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:44 AM on September 29, 2008


Which means he has a 20% chance of losing, which isn't very reassuring.

The glass is 20% empty?


No, the glass has a 20% chance of being 100% empty, then breaking into shards which stick in your eye, which becomes infected, and in your blinded, dizzy state, you fall down a flight of stairs and break both your legs. Your HMO refuses to cover.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:59 AM on September 29, 2008 [9 favorites]


As someone working in the nfp sector, every time I hear a remark like this, denigrating a local or regional research, infrastructure, education or arts project as an "earmark" I see red. Not every local expenditure by the national legislature is by definition wasted money. They get rid of earmarks, it ain't the useless, nonfunctional fighter jets that are getting cut, it's the day care centers, regional theaters, sewer projects and public transportation. It's legislation by sound bite-- describing what these projects actually are is way too complex, not to mention local in nature. Heck, I send my rep to congress IN ORDER that I have someone there who has understanding of local issues so that money for the things we value *here* comes in.
posted by nax at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


That sounds like kind of a worst-case scenario, Durn Bronzefist. You would probably break at least one arm trying to protect your head in the fall. Wait, that's not better is it.
posted by Mister_A at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2008


Could you explain your request for $2 million to study crab fucking?

Like that needs explaining.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:11 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wish Durn Bronzefist had taught my statistics class.
posted by rmless at 9:12 AM on September 29, 2008



No, the glass has a 20% chance of being 100% empty, then breaking into shards which stick in your eye, which becomes infected, and in your blinded, dizzy state, you fall down a flight of stairs and break both your legs. Your HMO refuses to cover.


At the very moment you are wheeled out of the emergency room with a stack of bills the size of a phone book in your lap; a giant eagle, swoops down, grabs you by your bandage swathed head and struggling to drag your screaming, struggling body into the sky manages to half pull you down the street while people whack at your broken legs with umbrellas like you are a fucking piñata until it gives up hope and drops you down an open sewer, which chooses that moment to erupt from an excess of methane buildup and fires you 20 feet in the air where you land on some power lines and are burnt to a crisp. Later a tired utility worker knocks you down with a long handled broom and sweeps your carbonized remains into a trash can. A week later a teenager finds your charred skull and makes a bong out of it, he listens to Sepultura on some shitty buzzy computer speakers in mono and smokes Mexican ditch weed that someone has pissed on so it will brick up out of your head.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:16 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Montana bears are sexy.
posted by Mister_A at 9:17 AM on September 29, 2008


The Sepultura part I don't mind so much.
posted by Mister_A at 9:19 AM on September 29, 2008


Cashman: check out this nifty graph. Out of about $1.2T the military and national security gets about $800B.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:20 AM on September 29, 2008


Oh hey, you guys! You guys!

I have this awesome idea for a t-shirt that is so totally cool and it explains everything about science, and we can totally nail McCain on it!

No, no really - I put some real thought into this design; see where it explains ALL OF THE IN'S AND OUTS AND NOODLY BITS of EVERYTHING ABOUT SCIENCE?

I know, it's way cool and emo - really romantic and cutting and angsty. I spent all night on it. Do you think he'll like it?

Wait - what? Eideteker's not here anymore. Oh, man....I feel like shit now. I feel like I'm going to fall apart.

Wait - before I go, did he do his 2nd person pronoun thing? I love that - we have to work it into our agenda for next time.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:23 AM on September 29, 2008




Could you explain your request for $2 million to study crab fucking?

Umm yea well you see now that we need healthcare reform and the hard working Americans whose jobs are being created under the job creation umbrella want the healthcare credits that they can see from the foriegn policy experience that comes with sharing a narrow maritime border with Russia. Yup Yup.


Real answer: she didn't want crabs having abortions either.
posted by clearly at 9:25 AM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


louche mustachio : I imagine he is also popular with the somewhat smaller segment of the population that secretly fears that somewhere in a secret laboratory deep in the mountains there is an army of horrible mutant Supergrizzlies waiting to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace.

Err, ok. This is kind of awkward. First, we decided not to use the name "Supergrizzlies", we were afraid that it would send the wrong kind of message. (we instead opted for Überhorribilis), and we actually canceled the project almost a year ago. The bears just weren't taking to the cybernetic implants as well as we expected, and after a couple of really embarrassing incidents where a grizzly used it's flamethrower to poach a salmon in mid-air, we realized that we could either arm them, or increase their IQs to superhuman levels, but not both.

In the end we just dumped the whole batch in Yellowstone and walked away.

Any rumors that the bears themselves are encouraging lobbyists to get these studies funded are just ridiculous conjecture. They don't need government money; they are all skilled counterfeiters.
posted by quin at 9:29 AM on September 29, 2008 [12 favorites]


Black bears are more successful than those other sorts of bear. Ha! That's right! I am sick of hearing all this bashing of Ursine-Americans.
posted by Mister_A at 9:48 AM on September 29, 2008


McCain's key point is lost in the whole bear-gate kerfluffle. What he was getting at is that we should be studying dinosaur DNA, in order to prove that they were domesticated by neolithic cave-dudes, as suggested by Sarah Palin, and did indeed help the aliens build the pyramids.

In summary, CHEWBACCA!!!
posted by Mister_A at 9:57 AM on September 29, 2008


At the very moment you are wheeled out of the emergency room with a stack of bills the size of a phone book in your lap; a giant eagle, swoops down, grabs you by your bandage swathed head and struggling to drag your screaming, struggling body into the sky manages to half pull you down the street while people whack at your broken legs with umbrellas like you are a fucking piñata until it gives up hope and drops you down an open sewer, which chooses that moment to erupt from an excess of methane buildup and fires you 20 feet in the air where you land on some power lines and are burnt to a crisp. Later a tired utility worker knocks you down with a long handled broom and sweeps your carbonized remains into a trash can. A week later a teenager finds your charred skull and makes a bong out of it, he listens to Sepultura on some shitty buzzy computer speakers in mono and smokes Mexican ditch weed that someone has pissed on so it will brick up out of your head.

I hate it when that happens.
posted by nax at 10:06 AM on September 29, 2008


I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue..."

Perhaps the McCain/Palin adminstration can have the bears pay for the test.
posted by zippy at 10:31 AM on September 29, 2008


In the end we just dumped the whole batch in Yellowstone and walked away.

And now NOBODY can picnic inside the park without being tricked out of their pic-a-nic baskets. Damn shame.
posted by inigo2 at 10:39 AM on September 29, 2008


I see "Iraq, Afghan Wars" on the New York Times chart, but no military or national defense.

I like Ben Cohen's presentation using Oreos explaining the military budget
Each cookie represented ten billion dollars, and he stacked them up to compare our military budget (more than thirty) to that of education (4 oreos), world hunger (1.5 oreos), children’s health care (5 oreos), energy independence (.25 oreos), job training (.75 oreos), and reducing the deficit (0 oreos).
...
Cohen continued with his oreo model to suggest how we might cut the military budget by at least six oreos (sixty billion dollars) and transfer funds into more needy projects. After all, Russia, China, Iran, Libya and North Korea combine for a mere 200 billion in military spending.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:15 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why isnt this going directly to the NSF? Why isnt this bailout money going directly to FDIC?

There's a problem here, but it aint electoral politics, its reckless congressional spending. This shit need to go through experts not Joe Congressman. He's not qualified to make these decisions.

Sorry, but this stuff is being done 100% wrong.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2008


I was glad to see that McCain finally responded to ScienceDebate, but I think it is pathetic that he refused to respond to Nature. Looking over his responses to ScienceDebate, most of the answers were fine, but I found a couple of ideas laughable and a couple of the themes troubling.

Laughable: McCain states that he is uniquely qualified to lead the technological direction of the nation because he used some technology in the Navy. The McCain campaign has been making this same sort of expertise-through-diffusion argument repeatedly, and I find it ridiculous. For example, the Palin claims of foreign policy experience based on Alaska's proximity to Russia, or when he claims (around 4:20) that Palin "knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America." Also, I'm not sure how much weight I'm willing to give McCain on his technological understanding, when he admits he does not understand how to surf the web or send an email.

Laughable: McCain states that "Under my guiding hand, Congress developed a wireless spectrum policy that spurred the rapid rise of mobile phones and Wi-Fi technology." Where did I hear a similar claim... oh yes Al Gore, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." And I can't find any specifics on how McCain guided the policy. Everything I've been able to find suggests he was against it, repeatedly voting against opening the telecommunications markets to competition.

McCain claims he is going to pay for the science budget by cutting earmarks. Last year that would have been $18 billion, which is 3x the NSF budget or about equivalent to the NASA budget. An additional $18 billion would be a great start. The problem is he seems to be promising that earmark money to everyone. And elsewhere, McCain has also said that he will freeze spending on all non-defense related projects, which does not sound too good for a large portion of science research (talked about by Physics Today under McCain's budget proposal).

A troubling theme in McCain's response is this same stress on less government-driven and more market-driven (business-oriented) approaches to innovation. This is the same thing Bush has been championing for the last eight years. The problem is this undercuts basic science research. Estimates that I've seen show that it typically takes 15-20 years for results from basic science research to reach commercialization, basic science research is often high-risk (in terms of success rates), and what that commercialization potential would be is often a big unknown (e.g., Large Hadron Collider). Industry is only interested in funding low-risk research with a clear commercialization goal and a (maximum) 2-3 year commercialization time line. Not to mention, there is a wide variety of important and worthwhile science that has no apparent commercialization potential. We are undercutting the foundation of innovation in this country. We have the momentum to carry us for a while based on the research that was done a decade ago, but soon that momentum will be gone.
posted by gruchall at 11:51 AM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Estimates that I've seen show that it typically takes 15-20 years for results from basic science research to reach commercialization, basic science research is often high-risk (in terms of success rates), and what that commercialization potential would be is often a big unknown (e.g., Large Hadron Collider). Industry is only interested in funding low-risk research with a clear commercialization goal and a (maximum) 2-3 year commercialization time line.

This is something that needs to be repeatedly drilled into every "the government can't do anything right" moron who thinks that industry is responsible for our technological and medical advantages. Government-funded basic research gets the ideas the first 9 miles down the road, where the viability is obvious. Industry carries them the last mile and collects the paychecks. Morons only see the latter.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:52 PM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Here's what I think would be the best way to the Democrats to defend the use of government funds for the advancement of science....cancer research. I wish Barack Obama had jumped down his throat about the bear comment. I would have loved to been able to say something like this in response:

"Are you mocking science? Do you honestly believe that the increasing our basic knowledge of the world around us through research and discovery is a bad thing? I sincerely hope not. I don't like wasteful government spending, but I do not think that science is wasetful. Twenty five years ago a cancer diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. We haven't defeated cancer yet, but survival rates are getting better and better, due to imrpoved detection systems and new treatments. Here in the United States, we have the best medical research in the entire world, largely due to funds provided by both our National Institutes of Health and Americans who donate their time and money to support finding cures for the disease that impact their loved ones. You know, someone once probably laughed at the idea of studying mold, but without it, we would have never have discovered penicillin."

Seriously, everyone hates cancer, even rednecks. It's an easy sell for the Dems.
posted by emd3737 at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2008 [8 favorites]


Science zealots who ignore the basic tenets of science perform as great a disservice as religious zealots who ignore the basic tenets of their religion.

The fact remains that in the confines of a science-related FPP, a very unscientific claim was made. Way to add partisan spin my comment, though, considering that what I said had nothing to do with politics.
posted by Eideteker at 6:21 PM on September 29, 2008


Uh, like why do we need to *know* stuff and junk?

Reminds me of talking to some folks about hunting. “Yeah, I like hunting” “What do you hunt?” “Oh, no, I, uh, I’d like to go hunting.” “Why?” “Uh. Yknow, to shoot stuff.”
Seriously, that’s what people think hunting involves. You just show up and start blasting. No taking care of the environment. No worries about reproduction curves, habitat erosion, food supply, etc. Science? Wha? Yeah, know any trig? Comes in handy doping out your sight.
Doesn’t want to study bears, what a f’ing asshole.

“The issue is that research dollars are being directed via earmarks, which is a horrible idea.”

What sucks is pulling out my wallet to take care of “public” lands. Oh, I don’t mind ponying up the money to cover hunting, research, conservation, hell, I like the idea of wilderness being there just being pristine untouchable wilderness and I’m happy to slap down cash for that.
But Joe Corporate gets to log, mine or drill the place out and if I want to hunt or hike there, maybe take some pictures - well, hey, *someone’s* gotta pay to put it back together, and well, it doesn’t look like a whole lot of other taxpayers want to walk around out here Smed, so uh *hand out*
... it’s like public land is a code word for “left alone,” but not in a good way.
Anyway, those trees and animals and nature and stuff really block out the scenery.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:25 PM on September 29, 2008


(And to be clear - I pay taxes like everyone else. But I (and other folks) spend a lot of out of pocket money on conservation. There’s no way for private groups to pull off this kind of research - even if we could write the big check - coordination, finding volunteers, students, getting permission, keeping track of the data, etc. etc. million other little details I don’t even know about - it’s got to be a government operation.)
posted by Smedleyman at 6:31 PM on September 29, 2008


That is, we need to have our precious research dollars given out via a peer-reviewed process, overseen by other experts in the field -- not by some congressman sticking in an earmark for the university in his state.

Pretty much the same system I'm afraid, except that Congress is more transparent.

Besides we actually do need some earmarks or something similar so that when resource managers NEED data they can get it and it doesn't all get funneled to academics. If you give all the money to academics you get a lot of short term studies full of theories that are of questionable usefulness to managers. Or no usefulness. Resource managers need to be able to design and maintain their own research that meets their needs and if this is the only way to get the money then it's fine by me.

Again this data was needed for management, not some kind of fundamental research or whatever. What you suggest is like giving the weather service money to a bunch of universities and hoping they research the right things needed to predict hurricanes. And publish them right away.
posted by fshgrl at 7:39 PM on September 29, 2008


Couric vs. Palin, round 2. Palin brought along J-Mac to help with the big words.
Sarah Palin: We had a great discussion with President Zardari as we talked about what it is that America can and should be doing together to make sure that the terrorists do not cross borders and do not ultimately put themselves in a position of attacking America again or her allies. And we will do what we have to do to secure the United States of America and her allies.
Fine; good. Little bit of a run-on sentence, but I understand it.
Couric: Is that something you shouldn't say out loud, Sen. McCain?

John McCain: Of course not. But, look, I understand this day and age of "gotcha" journalism. Is that a pizza place? In a conversation with someone who you didn't hear … the question very well, you don't know the context of the conversation, grab a phrase. Gov. Palin and I agree that you don't announce that you're going to attack another country …
OK, mostly makes sense; a step in the right direction. But WTF about the pizza place? Did anyone who saw this on teevee hear this? What's he talking about?
posted by swell at 8:31 PM on September 29, 2008


OK, mostly makes sense; a step in the right direction. But WTF about the pizza place? Did anyone who saw this on teevee hear this? What's he talking about?
While in a restaurant, a person (who was not a journalist) asked Palin what should be done about Pakistan. Palin responded that we should absolutely invade and get them mean ol' terrorist fellas you betcha.

This was less than 24 hours after John McCain tried to make a big deal out of Obama saying that we should consider unilateral strikes against terrorist camps within Pakistan, if Pakistan is not willing or able to take care of the situation themselves.

What you saw in this interview was McCain advancing the theory that what Palin said doesn't count, because pizza was involved.
posted by Flunkie at 9:05 PM on September 29, 2008


I reckon McCain is embarrassed as hell that she's been appointed running mate. She's a fucking dingbat.
posted by mattoxic at 2:43 AM on September 30, 2008


But she's the smartest creationist and anti-abortion person they could find!
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:56 AM on September 30, 2008


Here's the thing, Congress is a peer reviewed evaluation of grants and such.

If peer = adult humans, sure, but peer review is generally understood to mean peers within a particular broad research area.
posted by desuetude at 6:42 AM on September 30, 2008


peer review is generally understood to mean peers within a particular broad research area.

Broad meaning within the Science community? The NSF (an example of who should be doling out the money) is funded by Congress and headed by a Presidential appointee, how are they are above politics? Congress at least has to face the opinion of their constituents. No, democracy may not make for the best way fo scientific research to get funded, but it is the system we've got. If an earmark for bear research is ridiculous then it will have to face the scrutiny of the electorate. Apparently, it managed to get through. It's not like it was kept secret.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:57 AM on September 30, 2008


My point was simply that Congress is not equivalent to a study section.
posted by desuetude at 7:25 AM on September 30, 2008


Broad meaning within the Science community? The NSF (an example of who should be doling out the money) is funded by Congress and headed by a Presidential appointee, how are they are above politics? Congress at least has to face the opinion of their constituents.

The President nominates the director and the board, and it's Congress that approves nominees. So yeah, people appointed by the executive and vetted by Congress determine the high-level decisions going on within NSF. Stuff like what funding opportunities will be made available and how the budget will be distributed among the different program areas. What the highest priorities are, what programs will get slashed or combined or killed altogether.

But most of NSF are career scientists and administrators hired bu NSF. Sure the director steers the ship as a whole, but NSF is big. A lot of decisions get made at lower levels.

Ah, yes, because grants committees are above the fray and devoid of any political bias.

Here's the thing, Congress is a peer reviewed evaluation of grants and such. Just as they would on a politically appointed grants committee the more powerful lobby is going to be able to push for more funding. At least with Congress some podunk state school has a shot at getting funding rather than the same handful of ivory tower stalwarts. Maybe what we need in stead of either is a sort of land-grant cash infusion that spreads grant money more equally among the states to be distributed by State level grants committees. That way Montana gets its bear money, but Mississippi gets an equal $3 mil to study catfish maitin' calls and California gets $3 mil to study how awesome this dank kind is bro' or some such.


It's independent people, outside of NSF and without known conflicts of interest, who review grant proposals and score them. It's not a perfect system but the review process does give peers, meaning other scientists working in a similar area, a lot of input on what merits funding. That's a very high level of experience and knowledge being used to sift through the proposals and determine strengths and weaknesses of each. That's significant in an atmosphere where funding is competitive. The opinions of the general voting public or of elected officials are the exact opposite of peer review, because by definition peers in science are people with a very advanced level of training that most people don't have and a rather narrow focus of knowledge that most other scientists don't have. Peer review is exactly appropriate for choosing individual projects to fund precisely because it is by design not so easily influenced by politics. Grant proposals submitted to NSF stand on their merits, not which state got how much money last year or what school is influential. What you are proposing as an alternative isn't really all that differetn from your very botched impression of how things currently work. Both are how funding distributed by an elected government works.

In your proposed system, it matters less whether the science is important and more where it is carried out. That'd make sense if we wanted to understand things like failing salmon runs on a lark, because fish reproduction is just neato. Except we're losing the salmon and the nutrients they bring to river ecosystems, and it's kind of a big deal and not good. So if someone in Montana who works on salmon runs in Alaska proposes something groundbreaking, you fund that idea. It doesn't matter if Montana already got a bunch of money to research invasive plants. All that matters is that we need to figure the salmon thing out. Science is about who has the idea, not who has the political clout. Your proposed alternative would work a lot like Congress, and as bad as things are for science right now, I shudder to think what science funded entirely by elected officials would look like. Extremely few politicians have any science background.

This is what many people who distrust science don't understand, and what drives them insane about how science works. It's not that political and biased decisions don't happen, but rather the systems in place work against rather than for them. It's no accident that the Bush administration has moved as many initiatives as they could away from NSF to other agencies like Education. They don't trust science or scientists. They don't understand people who show them data and explain what it means no matter how it impacts or reflects on people's favored policy approaches. For people who use talking points and twist data to suit their purposes, the idea that people use and trust data and change their message to fit the data is alien. So they assume the scientists are being political and dogmatic to get funding.
posted by Tehanu at 2:35 PM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's not a perfect system but the review process does give peers, meaning other scientists working in a similar area, a lot of input on what merits funding.

I tell my students that peer review is a really bad system, but it's better than any other system for deciding who gets research funding.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:51 PM on September 30, 2008




Is that the same interview where he was getting angry in response to being asked about the distortions in his ads?
posted by Tehanu at 10:08 AM on October 1, 2008


Science is about who has the idea, not who has the political clout.

And I'm the one with the botched impression of how things really work? I assume you've worked in an academic setting before? The places I have experience with operate on a political level somewhere between Congress and a Sorority.

I shudder to think what science funded entirely by elected officials would look like.

If you work using appropriated governmet funds, you are living it. They may not set who gets what, but they do set how much there is to go around.

Extremely few politicians have any science background.

You know, I've read that very thing before, not to discredit it. I think its a valid point. I also happen to think that while democracy has many inconveniences, particularly in impeding progress, a more open system allows for checks and balances over a closed technocracy and this prevents tyranny. Without some check to elitism the academic and scientific community can become the ivory towers that they are accused of being. Science needs to have to justify its existance to the peons every once and a while to level the playing field.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:32 AM on October 1, 2008


Science needs to have to justify its existance to the peons every once and a while to level the playing field.

When you look around the room you're in, the car you're driving, or the plane you're flying in, do you see insufficient evidence of the value of science?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:11 AM on October 1, 2008


The Bush Administration's blatant hostility to science has really been a disaster. We'd have been much further along on global warming and alternative energy under eight years with Al Gore as president. (And I just realized the other day that if Gore had won, there would've been two liberal justices on the Supreme Court instead of Alito and Roberts.) The hostility towards science also weakens us economically.

Is that the same interview where he was getting angry in response to being asked about the distortions in his ads?

I don't know if that video had the exchange, but it's in this video from the same session.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:28 AM on October 1, 2008




When you look around the room you're in, the car you're driving, or the plane you're flying in, do you see insufficient evidence of the value of science?

No, but I'm not the one that signs the checks for research projects either. Those checks are written by Congress, who has to face reelection by the peons or they are written by businesses that have a vested intrest in the outcome of the research, so choose your poison.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:27 PM on October 3, 2008


Iowa newspaper editorial board to McCain: Haven’t you lived your entire adult life with taxpayer-funded health care?

And his answer? POW!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:21 AM on October 4, 2008


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