Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bush and the 'black time for science'

-- by Dave

We've written infrequently here on the Bush administration's ongoing war against science, but it's always noteworthy when confirmation of the problem (and concern about its effects) comes from people in a much better position to know.

Skip Berger at Crosscut has an excellent piece up citing at length an e-mail he received (in reply to a query) from Ed Lazowska, who was appointed by President Bush as co-chair of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, and is now the chair in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington.

Lazowska writes:
The years of the [George W.] Bush administration have been a black time for science in this nation. I speak with the experience of having co-chaired the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee for Bush, and having chaired the Defense Department's DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] Information Science and Technology Study Group during his presidency. Funds for research, the seed corn of our future competitiveness, have decreased. And the balance of those funds has shifted from longer-range topics — the natural role of the federal government — to shorter-range topics. In the Defense Department, excessive classification of research programs, restrictions on the participation of foreign nationals, and other policy shifts have caused university researchers to abandon working with DoD, meaning that many of the nation's best minds are not focused on defense-related problems.

Note that DoD funded the research that led to the Internet during the Vietnam war — it is not that we are in a war that is the issue! Presidential scientific advisory committees have been politicized. I have seen this firsthand. The general denigration of science emanating from the White House, and the near completee failure of the President's Science Advisor, Jack Marburger, to speak out, is poisonous. Right here in Seattle, consider the Discovery Institute and its "intelligent design." ("Faith-based science" is not what made this nation the world's leader.) Think about our immigration policy. This nation became the world's leader by welcoming the best and the brightest from all nations, but today we have a devil of a time getting foreign students into UW, or hiring faculty who are foreign nationals; foreign students who are educated here are "sent back where they came from" upon graduation rather than being retained to grow the technological base of our nation.

A lot of Republicans are busy pretending that George W. Bush is just uniquely incompetent and that his mistakes would not be repeated endlessly by any of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates. Yet if you look across the board at the GOP field, it's clear that not one of them would do a thing to change the ongoing right-wing war against science. Indeed, most of them seem poised to abet it.

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