Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Hostile To Science Are Republican Congressmen?


Ralph Hall, ancient GOP Science denier heads the Science Committee

We started looking at the House Science Committee when a particularly brainless and outspoken freshman teabagger, Sandy Adams (R-FL), since defeated in a primary, started ranting and raving in a Science Committee hearing about how the National Weather Service should be disbanded because cable TV does such a great job, never considering exactly where cable TV gets their information. Another member of the committee told me that even most of the Republicans saw Adams as an embarrassment and as a focus for scorn and derision... and amusement. But not all of them. Long passed are the days when a mainstream Republican like Sherwood Boehlert would dominate and chair the Science Committee and spend his career working on environmental policy and energy efficiency. That kind of agenda has become anathema to today's Republican Party which eschews Science as a liberal conspiracy against their single-minded belief in Greed and Avarice. Today the Science Committee is chaired by the oldest (90) and one of the most senile Members of Congress, Ralph Hall, a former Texas Blue Dog who switched to the GOP after voting to impeach Bill Clinton, getting in on the Abramoff gravy train and endorsing George W. Bush. So what qualifies Hall to be chairman of the Science Committee? He's one of Congress' leading Climate Change deniers and has accused climate scientists of concocting the evidence for anthopogenic climate change in order to receive federal research grants. What more evidence could Boehner and Cantor possibly want to give Hall the gig?

In fact, when you look at the committee, you sense that Boehner and Cantor were being a little ironic when making the assignments. Aside from weather expert Adams, the committee is chock full of flat-earth sociopaths, teabaggers like Paul Broun (R-GA), Todd Akin (R-MO), the GOP expert in lady parts, and internet porn expert Ben Quayle (R-AZ). Other notably anti-Science members of the Science Committee include Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Steven Palazzo (R-MI), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Chip Cravaack (R-MN) and Larry Bucshon (R-IN).

This month, with the election coming up, Scientific American decided to ask a simple question-- and answer it scientifically: Does Congress Get A Passing Grade On Science? They contacted 32 congressional leaders involved in science on their committees but only 9-- 7 Democrats and 2 Republicans-- agreed to respond.
We have responses to all eight questions from Reps. Henry Waxman (Committee on Energy and Commerce), Chris Van Hollen (Committee on the Budget), Ralph Hall (Committee on Science, Space and Technology), Timothy Bishop (Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment) and John Mica (Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure); Senators who responded were Jay Rockefeller (Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation), Tom Harkin (Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) and Dianne Feinstein (Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi answered five of the eight questions.

The following legislators declined to participate: Sens. Michael Enzi (Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) and Jeff Sessions (Committee on the Budget) as well as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Rep. Collin Peterson (Committee on Agriculture). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's press secretary informed SA that the senator ultimately did not have time to get to the questions before the deadline. Sen. Ron Wyden's press team wrote that the member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has a policy not to respond to survey questions.

The remaining elected officials did not respond: from the House, Frank Lucas (Committee on Agriculture), Scott Garrett (Committee on the Budget), Fred Upton (Committee on Energy and Commerce), Edward J. Markey and Doc Hastings (both on the Committee on Natural Resources), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Committee on Science, Space and Technology), Bob Gibbs (Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment) and Nick Rahall (Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure); from the Senate, Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow (both on the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry), Patty Murray (Committee on the Budget), Jim DeMint (Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation), Lisa Murkowski (Committee on Energy and Natural Resources), James Inhofe and Barbara Boxer (both on the Committee on Environment and Public Works), Harry Reid (majority leader) and Lamar Alexander (Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development).

We posted the responses in full and we welcome your analysis in the comments. Do congressional leaders weigh science when forming their policies? How do they plan to fund and regulate research? We are not asking politicians to be scientists, but we are asking them to consider the evidence when shaping U.S. science policy for the future.
Here are the questions:

• Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America's continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?

• Climate Change. The Earth's climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change-- and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

[Chairman Hall's response:
As Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee I have had the opportunity to hear from widely respected scientists on all sides of this question. The only thing that is clear is that there continues to be great debate and uncertainty among these experts regarding the extent of natural climate variability versus human impacts, and what, if anything, enactment of economy-wide greenhouse gas regulations might do to alter our changing climate. I do not ignore those who, like former Vice President Al Gore, warn us about the seriousness of global warming. We should get the best science and stay abreast of any threat from human impacts, but I am disturbed that we have spent over thirty billion dollars studying climate change and have little to show for it.

More importantly, however, science alone does not and cannot tell us if cap-and-trade or other greenhouse gas regulatory regimes are a good idea; many other factors-- particularly economic consequences-- must be considered to answer this question. Unfortunately, this Administration has pursued a regulate-at-any-cost agenda with respect to greenhouse gases, completely disregarding the harmful impacts on our long-sputtering economy. Until we have a better handle on these issues, I will continue to oppose regulation of greenhouse gases because of the significant threat it presents to American jobs, the economy, and energy affordability and reliability.]
• Research and the Future.  Federally funded research has helped to produce America's major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the UK, Singapore, China, and Korea are making competitive investments in research.  Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?

• Education.  Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st.  In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?

• Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

• Fresh Water. Less than one percent of the world's water is liquid fresh water, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global fresh water is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution. What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant fresh water for all Americans?

• The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society. What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?

• Science in Public Policy. We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society, and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions. How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information, and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?

Henry Waxman's response to the last question puts the entire debate about the GOP attitude towards Science into valuable context:
Effective policies must be informed by the best scientific and technical information available. When policymakers reject the science, the result is bad policy. Unfortunately, science-denial seems to be the norm on Capitol Hill these days.

The Republican denial of climate change science is a prime example of this irresponsible approach. According to the eminent scientific journal Nature, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have taken positions on climate change that are "fundamentally anti-science" and the result of "willful ignorance," making it "hard to escape the conclusion that the U.S. Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness." Notwithstanding the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and is a serious threat, House Republicans unanimously supported a bill, H.R. 910, to overturn EPA's scientific finding that climate change endangers public health and welfare. During the floor debate on H.R. 910, I offered an amendment that stated, "Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare." All but one House Republican voted to reject these scientific findings.

Many House Republicans explained their rejection of EPA's scientific findings by stating their view that the science is "not settled." At the same time, House Republicans have voted to cut funding for climate research that could provide more insight into the pace and likely impacts of climate change. They have also refused to hold hearings to better understand the overwhelming body of existing scientific evidence showing that climate change is occurring.

Policymakers cannot address serious problems such as climate change by denying their existence. Congress should be holding hearings with the nation's top scientists to understand the problems we face so that we can design sensible policies to tackle those problems. I have repeatedly requested these hearings. So far, the Republican leaders I have written have not even bothered to respond. It is a deplorable record.

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