I'm not alone. And I'm certainly not the first. Darlene Cavalier, everyone's favorite Science Cheerleader, has been on this issue for a while as has PZ Myers. First, some background. If you aren't familiar with OTA, at its heyday it had 143 people and an annual budget of $21.9 million - and it was mostly useless. Like all such bureaucratic sinkholes, it claimed to be 'non-partisan' yet was totally partisan. Non-partisan outside government usually means right wing. Non-partisan inside government usually means left.
It was also populated by rich lawyers, namely members of Congress. And it took two years to write anything. And it duplicated work done elsewhere years after it was relevant. In other words, it was like a lot of government bureaucracies and the Republican "Contract With America" was better off for giving it the axe, though I know that generates boos and hisses from most in academia.
So why bring it back? Well, folks, we're sort of screwed out there in the real world and a truly non-partisan advisory council for Congress would bring science back from where it is today - a political football in which some scientists have gotten so mired in political agendas and liberal good works that science doesn't always look, you know, scientific any more. Non-belief of experts is the favorite sport of up to 50% of Americans, though usually they just disbelieve the ones who disagree with their political positions - because part of science made itself political.
So it would be a new OTA, except nothing like the old OTA - it would have input from outside the Beltway science establishment. Actually, maybe it's better not to call it the OTA at all but that's another issue.
Regardless of what it gets called, we need it. For as much as people in science are excited about President Obama, they have to realize it's only because they happened to vote for anyone not a Republican and not his actual positions on science and medicine. He's stocking his administration with kooks who think any sort of late-term abortion restriction is the same as slavery for women, hardly a mainstream medical or cultural position, and he has an unhealthy affection for UFO believers. He also thinks vaccines may cause autism.
And he has access to whole teams of people who should help him know better. Congress also needs some impartial advice and the OTA, or whatever it ends up being called, may be just that, if it's done properly (this time.) It isn't like the NSF will do the work for them - it takes them two years and an investigation to get them to ask employees to stop spending all day watching p*rn. $22 million for the potential of non-partisan science is not a bad deal.
Cavalier met with Rush Holt (Democrat, naturally, since it is another government organization being created, but he is also a physicist and five-time Jeopardy winner) and he has said he will push for re-opening the OTA this week. Here's hoping he wins this one and it ends up being what we hope it can be.
P.S. Chris Mooney, writing on Discover, feels the same way, though he looks at the accomplishments of the OTA more favorably than I do. That's right, Chris Mooney and a Republican agreeing with each other. What's next, dogs and cats living together?
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