Saturday, February 04, 2006

One of these days W...Pow, straight to Mars!

In his State of the Union address W. called for the training of 70,000 Advanced Placement teachers and the recruitment of 30,000 math and science professionals. "In order for America to be a competitive nation in the years to come, we have got to have a work force that is strong in engineering and science and physics," he said in a speech in Dallas yesterday. The NYT writes that the White House published its so-called "American competitiveness initiative" which will "double federal spending on basic research grants in the physical sciences over the next 10 years , at a cost of $50.000 billion." [NYT]

That's all great and fine, but it's kind of ironic that the guy who thinks "intelligent design" should be taught in science classes is now calling for more money for science. W. has done everything in his power to undermine science that doesn't jibe with his version on reality and has constantly undermined legitimate scientific findings for political advantage. There's a reason we turn out 70,000 engineers every year and the Chinese produce 600,000: they don't believe in fairy tales about guys with big white beards throwing lightning bolts at nonbelievers.

NASA is a good example of W.'s war on science. As long as the scientists there are working on moon bases and trips to Mars he's fine with it, but whatever you do---don't talk about climate change. James Hansen was threatened with what he said were "dire consequences" if he kept talking about global warming. This is a guy who has spent 30 years studying the climate and apparently he knows a little too much. White House Commissars are out to get him. The NYT says NASA administrator Michael Griffin issued a statement yesterday "calling for 'scientific openness' throughout the agency in response to Hansen's claim that he's being muzzled. It's not the job of public-affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff," says Griffin. Of course, that describes what they are doing to a T. This is classic administration non-denial denial.

If everything is so honky-dory at NASA and they're not threatening Hansen, why does he have to talk to a lawyer before he does interviews with the media? On NPR's Living on Earth he told Steve Curwood he was late to the interview because he had to go over with his lawyer what he could and couldn't say. No, there's not attempt to stifle legitimate scientific discussion here.

And there is certainly no effort to "adjust" material produced by NASA scientists. No, no, heaven forefend! The agency, according to dozens of public-affairs officials and dozens more agency scientists, "has transmitted verbally through a chain of midlevel workers" directives saying that "all news releases on earth science developments" have to "allude to goals set out in Mr. Bush's 'vision statement' for the agency." Naturally, that "vision" thing is a return to the moon and then a manned mission to Mars. So links between wind patterns and recent warming of the Indian Ocean" gets turned into analysis that can be "useful in studying climate systems on other planets." Not on this one, though, we're out of here! As soon as we get a base on Mars, W. & CO. are leaving this sweatbox for the Red Planet, which W. thinks is just like a great big Red state. (It's like Kansas in space, Mr. president.)

What is it with W.'s obsession with Mars, anyway? He can't even balance a budget or run a war without massively screwing it up, what makes him think we could pull off a trip to Mars? I say, if he's really serious about going ahead with this science fiction boondoggle, Schwarzenegger should be the first one to go. Or maybe this is all really about building a forward fire-base on the moon to defend us from aliens! That makes as much sense as the rest of the stuff that comes out of the White House.


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