Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This terrifies me

The use of scientific funding for ridiculous research is one of my two science-based pet peeves (the other being puns in journal articles).  But when I say ridiculous research I mean mostly flashy work designed to make the experimenter famous rather than expand human knowledge in a meaningful way.  What is being proposed here is completely horrifying.  The fact that NSF is the first target of Eric Cantor's YouCut initiative is bad enough, but ordinary tax payers should not be in charge of selecting what studies get funded or not.  Political arguments already play too big a role in how NSF hands out its grants and this sort of initiative will only make things worse.

When examined superficially, even the best research looks kind of silly.  Eric Kandel won a Nobel for his work and if you aren't a neuroscientist, the idea of poking at sea slugs to understand learning and memory might seem completely ridiculous.  However, the research that came out of it has had huge implications for a wide variety of disciplines.  To reinforce my point, here is a link to an academic paper about the soccer player research discussed in the video.  I'm not an expert in this sort of research, but if you bother to examine the paper in any depth you'll notice that the research actually has some major implications for understanding team-work in a variety of settings.  Again, I'm not an expert, but investigating new methods for understanding group dynamics and increasing efficiency seems like exactly the sort of thing NSF should be funding.

I don't want to get any more overtly political here than I already have, but I'm really not understanding how certain members of congress can endorse programs as budget saving measures while also holding everything else hostage (including an extension of unemployment, during a recession) in order to pass tax cuts for people making more that $250,000 a year.  I'm probably just biased being a scientist living in an ivory tower (to which funding is also being severely cut), but it seems like scientific investigation (which creates jobs and, and you know, saves lives) should probably take precedence over making sure rich people get to continue paying less taxes than they had to for the majority of the twentieth century.

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