Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Perhaps it's Time for a Little Advocacy

I have been hesitant to use this blog as a sounding board for political discourse, but considering the events and general tone of the past months, the impression presented to me is that the WORLD IS FALLING APART and that I must prepare for the Maya Apocalypse of 2012. So, as I look at the oil spill in the gulf, I wonder to what extent the dissolution of the Office of Technology Assessment under the Gingrich Congress has resulted in our current woeful state. I think that the lack of an informed Congress is directly related to our government's inability to effectively maneuver in crises.

This excerpt is from Carl Sagan's book, "The Demon-Haunted World" (written in 1995 by the way). It is downright spooky the problems he saw fifteen years ago:

It’s perilous and foolhardy for the average citizen to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, air pollution, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain, topsoil erosion, tropical deforestation, exponential population growth. Jobs and wages depend on science and technology. If our nation can’t manufacture, at high quality and low price, products people want to buy, then industries will continue to drift away and transfer a little more prosperity to other parts of the world. Consider the social ramifications of fission and fusion power, supercomputers, data “highways,” abortion, radon, massive reductions in strategic weapons, addiction, government eavesdropping on the lives of its citizens, high-resolution TV, airline and airport safety, fetal tissue transplants, health costs, food additives, drugs to ameliorate mania or depression or schizophrenia, animal rights, superconductivity, morning-after pills, alleged hereditary antisocial predispositions, space stations, going to Mars, finding cures for AIDS and cancer. How can we affect national policy—or even make intelligent decisions in our own lives—if we don’t grasp the underlying issues?
As a nation, we are now looking at spending countless billions in taxpayer and private money to provide a mere semblance of return to normalcy in the gulf coast, and we are supposed to take this is in stride as if there was really nothing structurally in our government that could have helped us avoid the "inevitability" of a deep-water rig disaster. Yet for the mere cost of $21.9 million, realistically a blip in the federal budget but a gross misappropriation of funds under the "Contract with America," we could have engineers and scientists providing Congress and the Executive with non-partisan warnings about the issues associated with deep-water drilling and solutions for crisis containment and mitigation. And all of this is just one example! Look at Sagan's ever-prescient laundry list for God's sake. Isn't it worth $21.9 million to have experts advising decision-makers in this great country of ours on complex scientific and technological issues ranging from AIDS research to HD-TV's?

Here is another excerpt, this one from the Union of Concerned Scientists site that summarizes my point in a much more effective manner:
Most of the major challenges now facing the nation revolve around science. Of the 535 members of Congress, how many do you suppose are scientists and engineers? Here’s the answer: three physicists, one chemist, six engineers including a biomedical engineer, and one microbiologist. How many do you suppose are lawyers, who often avoided science classes like the plague? 225. It’s little wonder we see more rhetoric than facts. It would be less of a problem if Congress had a science advisory body that gave it quality, non-partisan advice. Advice that could save billions by preventing costly policy or spending errors that are not informed by the best available science. They used to, and it was called the Office of Technology Assessment . But they closed that 15 years ago to save a relative pittance. Since then, the science-based challenges facing the nation have multiplied. Congressional staffers need access to timely and top quality science advice on the issues before their Members. Today, there are at least two efforts that we are aware of to revive Congress’s science and technology advisory body. Working with Science Debate co-chair and U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), the Union of Concerned Scientists has organized a letter from scientists supporting the revival of the OTA that is open for signature.
I encourage you to get behind this cause. It is something tangible, actionable, and valuable for our country. It is very rare that I read something that speaks so clearly to me. I really feel that there is no negative here. I admit, I am new to the advocacy world, and I am by no means a scientific expert, but I know that restoring the OTA is of great importance in this increasingly complex world.

1 comment:

Chicago PD said...

Thanks for the article James. Keep up the good work. Hope all is well in D.C. Love the article, I have signed up.