It seems like an overgeneralization to say that Republicans don’t like science. After all, not all conservatives are completely devoid of scientific thought. But when the star of the party likes to play exorcist and seems befuddled why we have to watch volcanoes for safety’s sake, and the other prominent party figures blast small science grants as examples of shockingly frivolous government waste of taxpayer money, it sure does seem like the GOP is on the warpath against scientific endeavors. What they forget is that experiments in a lab today can be major contributors to an economic boom a few years from now.
Of course the main motivation for going after science is the Republican desire to demonstrate that the Democrats are supposedly wasting money on nonsense rather than helping a John Q. Public in need during a financial crisis. To many of their supporters, science is not something emphasized in their education and the cultural motif embraced by many conservatives is that a scientist is just someone who can’t cut it in the real world of corporate cubicle farms. So if they obtusely and off-handedly mention scientific efforts and then mock their purpose, they believe the core adherents of the Republican ideology will rise up in support and help them in the 2010 election as they vent their anger at those wasteful liberals and their elitist colleges.
Now, it seems ironic that the party responsible for the biggest deficits in history which come to trillions of dollars, is picking on $140 million budgets for volcano monitoring, $2 million for a number of astronomy grants and genetics and pest control studies with just budgets just shy of a quarter million or so each. These supposedly horrifying examples of government waste on scientific gobbledygook are not even rounding errors in the kind of deficits that happened with their approval. Most of those deficits were for wars, bank bailouts (so much for the free market that’s supposed to regulate itself) and random tax cuts designed to goose consumer spending in tough times. Rather than helping create new markets and new jobs, the Republican strategy for helping the nation get through an economic downturn was to encourage spending when it was runaway spending that got us into the mess they were trying to mitigate.
After a Democrat is elected, now government spending is out of control, especially when we’re trying to safeguard people from volcanic eruptions (one word; Yellowstone) and figure out if a marauding asteroid could slam into the Earth and do tens billions of dollars in damage. Oh and on top of that, we’re now supposed to stop teaching science in biology class and instead teach the Book of Genesis or raise our hands and talk about how everything is so complex and weird and mysterious and that nobody knows anything about the living world. Are you joking? Are all the interns who could do some research and find out that science projects are necessary for us to keep the innovation economy going and for safeguarding people’s lives during such things as natural disasters out to lunch? Would it kill them to do some thinking on the subject before another condescending speech about science grants spectacularly backfires?
Don’t get me wrong, tax cuts are great. It’s like your landlord coming to your apartment with a smile to announce that he’s lowering your rent. Nice, isn’t it? However, when you don’t have any prospects for work, it doesn’t matter how low your rent is, you still can’t pay it at the end of the day. Giving tax cuts to companies in hopes they’ll hire more workers isn’t a viable choice either since these companies have a lot of places where to use that money before hiring even one new employee. So what we need to do is generate jobs and work on breakthroughs that will create a new economic boom in the future. Despite the dot com bubble, the internet has created a huge boom in available jobs that are now vital for any company that wants to succeed. And where did the internet come from? A grant to DARPA and a grant to CERN where the web as we know and love it was created to help scientists exchange huge amounts of data. Well today, to pull out of such a major financial crisis, we need a new internet and we need scientists to help us find it.
And hey, new jobs means more money and more people to who the Republicans can give a tax cut in hopes of swaying them to push a button with the red R on it next election year. Before we get there however, we need to realize that people who insist that doing more of the same is the only viable solution to resolving a mess that doing more of the same got us into to begin with, probably need to give a lot more thought to both their speeches and their policies.