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November 6, 2012 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

I recently received a mass mailing from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an organization that I am a member of.  On the envelope was the statement: “The future of science is at stake.”This seemed pretty dire so I opened the envelope to learn more. The letter was about the possible consequences to science research and development funding as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Budget Control Act of 2011 is the result of the inability to develop a budget compromise and dictates sequestration of discretionary defense and domestic funding in the absence of such a compromise. It is the act popularly characterized as the “fiscal cliff”. While many are primarily concerned about one side of the budget or the other those who recognize the importance of research and development funding need to be concerned with both. Research and development funding will not only be hit hard by cuts to the domestic funding for budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science foundation but also significant funding through the Department of Defense for biomedical research as well as aerospace and communications. Additional funding cuts to science are likely in the domestic research and development funding which is included in the NASA budget as well as the Departments of Energy and Agriculture. As suggested in the letter there is indeed much at stake. However, the fiscal cliff is not what I thought of when I saw the dire warning on the envelope. 

This warning took my mind to the commentary I had recently seen on the Rachel Maddow show. In this commentary Rachel Maddow described several members of the House Committee on Science and Technology, the legislators with significant say over science funding and particularly those of the house majority party. There appears to be several members of this group that maintain an absolutely visceral fear and hate of science. We really need to ask ourselves about the role of these people in overseeing the funding of science in this country. There have been other commentaries on this subject and I acknowledge that I borrowed heavily from them in developing this piece.

This story came jumped into the news when Representative Paul Broun stated ”All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Please keep in mind that Broun is a physician and has an undergraduate degree in chemistry. The folks who educated him at the University of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia where he was educated may be surprised to find out they are located in the “pit of Hell”.

Representative Todd Akin has demonstrated his mastery of human biology in his recent statement “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” He finds agreement from Representative Roscoe Bartlett who states “There are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest — compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.”

 But there is more. Representative Dana Rohrabacher recently described previous episodes of climate change this way: “We don’t know what those other cycles were caused by in the past. Could be dinosaur flatulence, you know, or who knows?” Heard enough? We still need to mention that Representative James Sensenbrenner has characterized climate research as both “scientific fascism” and an “international conspiracy”. Representative Sandy Adams supported a bill to have science teachers “teach theories that contradict the theory of evolution.” Let’s not forget about Representative Ralph Hall who says of concerns about global warming: “I’m really more fearful of freezing. And I don’t have any science to prove that. But we have a lot of science that tells us they’re not basing it on real scientific facts.”

Collectively these statements leave me utterly amazed about how these people are able to find themselves in such an important position for scientific funding and policy. And it leaves me afraid, very afraid.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

2 comments | Topics: Bioethics and Public Policy, Government

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John Kaplan

John Kaplan wrote on 11/07/12 4:16 PM

I am offering a post-election update. Rep Todd Akin (R-Missouri) lost his Senate bid. Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Florida) lost in the primary, and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett lost his reelection bid. The House Science and Technology Committee will labor on without them.
John Kaplan

John Kaplan wrote on 11/09/12 10:59 AM

Further update: Rep Broun (R-Georgia) ran unopposed and won reelection. However, Charles Darwin received 4,000 write in votes.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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