Is the Stimulus Turning Science into a Democratic Issue?

In connection with the public launch of, there was a public event last night with university officials and members of Congress celebrating science funding in the economic recovery legislation.  Jeff Mervis, a reporter for Science, has reported that no Republican members of Congress attended, because the organizers invited only those legislators that supported the economic recovery legislation.  The headline of the blog post Mervis wrote is a bit more sensationalist than the post itself, but the implication – that science is becoming a Democratic issue – is worth considering.

Daniel Sarewitz went further with this possibility in an article earlier this year for Issues in Science and Technology.  It’s a thoughtful piece, worth taking the time to read carefully.  But I’m still not persuaded that science is, or is becoming, a Democratic issue.  As I’ve written before (and as I think Sarewitz suggests in the body of his article), science does not map neatly onto party lines, and parties will use science to support decisions that irritate voters of any and all political stripe.  The doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget was implemented by a Democratic and Republican President (and by Republican Congresses).  A Republican President developed the American Competitiveness Initiative and a Democratic Congress eventually enacted much of it into law.  This doesn’t fit into that overhyped, underthought meme of the last few years, the so-called “War on Science.”

Ultimately, the bigger issue for the science advocacy community is getting people and policymakers to care enough to support their goals.  And I just don’t see either party caring enough to really embrace science in the consistent and important way that would make favoring one party really politically damaging.  Do Sarewitz and Mervis have valid points?  Yes.  But I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

It does seem dumb for the folks to invite just stimulus supporters to an event (though I can see why they might think it could come across as rubbing their noses in it).  Why not try and sell more people on the value of scientific research in the stimulus bill through the event?  What’s more troubling to me than the embrace of a particular party is the embrace of a particular budgetary action.  In a couple of years the stimulus money will have been committed, and where will the effort be?  The kind of tracking possible on the new website doesn’t have to be limited to stimulus spending.  This narrow focus smacks of the same short-sighted thinking about the budget doubling of NIH that has produced too many Ph.D. holding biomedical scientists, with too little grant money to go around.


5 thoughts on “Is the Stimulus Turning Science into a Democratic Issue?

  1. David,
    It’s true that science does not map neatly onto party lines. However; belief in a central command and control economy does, the D’s are in favor and the R’s are adamantly opposed.

    The authorship of the stimulus bill maps neatly onto party lines; the D’s drafted it and the R’s were opposed.

    The science projects in the stimulus bill map neatly to the favor of funding research supporting AGW. The policies justified by AGW map neatly in favor of a central command and control economy (cap and trade).

    From this egregious partisan wrangling we somehow end up deciding that conservatives are at war with science. Actually I’m at war with partisanship, but the war is not going neatly.

    • Ah, but the post was about science and party lines, not party lines and AGW research, or party lines and a central command and control economy.

      I don’t follow your logic as it relates to the topic of the post, possibly because it doesn’t relate.

  2. The relation to the topic of the post is that the parties are using science to justify their deeply held beliefs. Both parties; but only party is describing me as anti-science.

    The assignment of billions of dollars in the stimulus bill for scientific research was a wish list of projects proposed by the D’s. Not because the R’s didn’t want other scientific projects but because they were shut out of the process. The D’s are building on the work of the IPCC and describing it as “settled science”. With that narrative they can fling the pejorative of “anti-science” at anyone who thinks the science of the IPCC is flawed.

    No one is anti-science. That is just a partisan pejorative that is thrown around for short term gain. But I have seen the source code for one of the IPCC climate models and am on record as being anti-bad-science.

    If being repelled by the coding style of the IPCC makes me anti-science then being anti-science is more common than I thought, but not partisan.

  3. I suspect you haven’t read the stimulus bill, since your assertions don’t match the facts.

    There are very few research projects singled out in the bill, so I don’t think this wish list you describe exists. The NIH and NSF money is not listed by project, but by major purpose (research, buildings, etc.)

    Climate change is mentioned once, in connection with an infrastructure support program funded by the Department of Energy.

    There are no references to the IPCC (by initial or full name).

    Do you really mean to suggest that the slinging of anti-science over acceptance or rejection of the IPCC models is done by those with strong party affiliation? Because my observations of those with strong party affiliation who are arguing over climate change are not debating the models.

  4. Pingback: No Need For Partisan Glasses To Read The Flake Amendment « Pasco Phronesis

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