the peter principle stacks the deck against science
According to the famous Peter Principle, everyone eventually rises to a level of incompetence in an organization and nowhere does it seem to be more true than in Congress. As pointed out by many reporters, Todd Akin’s breathtakingly dimwitted commentary on rape wasn’t just alarming because it gave us a terrifying peek into the mindset of someone who wants to regulate the life and health of women across the country, but because it came out of the mouth of someone who sits on the House Science and Technology committee, a legislative body that’s responsible for helping to drive the engine of First World growth. One would think that if you sit on a post that basically gives you enormous power over the nation’s scientific and technological path, you’d at least know how to do a search on whether women can or can’t get pregnant from rape. Even more disturbing is that he has equally scientifically illiterate colleagues. Eight out of 36 members of the committee are on the record in ridiculing scientific facts and issues.
So while we’re supposed to be busy fighting social injustice in the name of science and atheism, the nation is dealing with the equivalent of PETA members deciding the fate of the USDA, or ALF activists determining the future of animal research labs. Lawyers and former businessmen are primarily in charge of funds for public research and development. Not scientists, engineers, or even administrators from research institutions who would be eminently more qualified for this job, but people who butcher basic facts to score cheap political points. One of the committee’s members, Paul Broun, parrots the conspiracy theory that climate change is a UN-led hoax and declared that the CDC’s recommendation that people eat more fruits and vegetables every day is a socialist ploy, a statement that would probably even make McCarthy’s ghost murmur that if you’re Red-baiting salad, you’ve gone a little off the deep end. Yet amazingly, someone who is finding communist plots in something as simple as a balanced diet wasn’t laughed out of a post where he can do so much damage with his arrogant ignorance. He’s still there.
How this committee came to be in such dire state is a great summation of why Congress today has basically been broken. People who too often don’t bother to inform themselves on anything outside what they find personally important elect people who tell them what they want to hear in quick, snappy soundbytes, and these silver-tongued shmoozers promote each other to posts in key policy areas based on patronage networks rather than their qualifications. At least we have economists running the Treasury and people with military and intelligence experience running defense projects because we recognize that money and weapons are important. But clearly, we are not doing the same with science which is why people can’t seem to be bothered that we’re letting woefully ignorant people define scientific priorities for the nation. Creationists, conspiracy theorists, and fundamentalists who can’t be bothered to spend a minute or two to check if what they’re going to say has any grounding in fact shouldn’t even be allowed near their local high schools’ science fair, much less have any say in research funding. The fact that they are really speaks volumes about where we’re going wrong in the grand scheme of things…