From electricity to plastics to agriculture, everything about modern life depends on science. The United States has always been a leader in scientific discovery and scientific R&D expenditures now outpace the United States’ GDP. Embryonic stem cell research, propane, and Haas avocados were all discovered or developed here, so one could argue that scientific innovation is not only one of America’s greatest successes, but also what makes America great.
“Make America Great Again” happens to be Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and he could start by campaigning to fund science. While $456 billion was spent in 2013 on research and development, a paltry 11 percent of it came from the federal government. What’s more is that Republican Congressional Chairman of the House Committee for Science, Space, and Technology (HSST) Lamar Smith has repeatedly accused the National Science Foundation of wasting taxpayer money on “frivolous research” while Senator Rand Paul charged the National Institute of Health with lying about their financial resources to adequately study Ebola. Then there’s presidential hopeful Ben Carson who told a 2012 crowd that the big bang theory was the stuff of “fairy tales” and that Charles Darwin must have been influenced “by Satan.”
The United States has always been a leader in scientific discovery and scientific R&D expenditures now outpace the United States’ GDP.
We can laugh at or deride these Republicans all we want, but there is nothing funny about defunding scientific research. Earlier this year, the HSST approved a bill that would cut $300 million from NASA’s earth-science budget, which is mainly allocated to studying climate change. Of course, the global warming-denying motivation is not hard to see here, and these shortsighted ideological justifications will cause more costly taxpayer funded expenses when Mother Nature bears down on us in wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and famines.
Earlier this year, the HSST approved a bill that would cut $300 million from NASA’s earth-science budget, which is mainly allocated to studying climate change.
Science is so seamlessly integrated in our lives — our iPhones could some day rely on quantum dots and cars will soon drive themselves — that the thought of deprioritizing it is not only illogical, but also next to impossible. The fields of engineering, technology, and medicine are integrating to discover new ways to approach old problems faster than ever. For instance, this month, a team of researchers from across disciplines released a paper detailing how they used 3D printers to regenerate nerves in rats. Nerve trauma and disease are common and account for hundreds of thousands of surgeries a year in the United States. If the 3D printing can be perfected, the procedure could improve (or even save) many lives.
Or, if Republicans really want to take on space exploration, a NASA fellowship has funded the discovery of how to harvest water from asteroids. This program will not only help expand human space exploration, but also save the organization millions of dollars. And no, Ben Carson, that’s not a fairy tale.
Michael Vassar, science officer of MetaMed Research, decries the fact that we have “essentially banned the sort of research which has given us all of our successes in medicine from the entire history of medicine.”
Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.
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