In a report sure to send left-wing science blogging into a tizzy, an analysis by Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D., Republican from Oklahoma (naturally, because Republicans hate science if they object to obscure studies that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars) says the NSF is spending money foolishly.

Obviously it is the job of politicians to occasionally make sure money is not spent foolishly, and I have long argued here that the NSF is a poor way to fund basic research and is better done in the private sector where it can be funded without showing up in ABC News reports - this just highlights why scientists should stop insisting on more taxpayer money and government oversight.  Being a political football is bad.

I am not concerned with the indignant rage science blogging will engage in - they know nothing about money and don't care and will simply respond that 'war in Afghanistan' or subsidies for oil companies mean anything should be funded.    Again, enjoy being a political football - Science 2.0 takes no government money and is more successful than every government-funded project that has attempted to do science outreach.   And more successful than every private one too.   Instead of venting that Sen. Coburn has an R after his name, researchers of all disciplines and political persuasions should be appreciative that he is bringing this to light so good research can be funded instead.   If his numbers are accurate, and $1.2 billion alone is waste and a lot is silliness, that is money that could be better spent on real experimentation.

Among Coburn's criticisms:

  • $300,000 to study if Farmville helps build personal relationships
  • $1.5 million for a robot that can fold laundry and takes 25 minutes to fold a towel.
  • Gelatin wrestling  in Antarctica
  • Shrimp on a treadmill

Shrimp on a treadmill.  Yes, sick shrimp move slower than non-sick ones.

As always, the NSF has engaged in a 'vigorous' defense of its funding practices (wow, really??) and claims they invented Google, which is sure to make Sergei Brin giggle.  And if the economy is bad and land values have fallen everywhere, should the NSF be increasing its rent from $19 million a year to $26 million?   Sure, it's taxpayer money and the government wastes money name it...but that is not a defense.   No snowflake in an avalanche can take the blame.

towel-folding robot
It folds your towels!  But takes 25 minutes.

Laundry-folding robots have some value, of course.   By trying to make advances in what I will call non-linear neuroscience, for example, we could help people with brain injuries in the future but the shrill militants, who only come out when it's a Republican doing the talking, think they need to circle the wagons around all projects, even for studying group dynamics in EverQuest 2.

Not me.   We could stop funding 100% of evolutionary psychology (example: $587,068 from the NSF to try and determine if we are genetically conservative or liberal) and science would not be impacted one bit.

Not being trusted guides for the public - all the public, not just fellow progressives - is why science blogging is barely noticeable in overall science media.   There is plenty to criticize about politicians on the left and right and their stances on science, it would just be nice if we weren't the only ones who criticize both sides.