Asshat Eric Cantor readies troops for a guerrilla war on science

Eric Cantor, Republican whip and soon-to-be Majority Leader has a horrible idea. He wants to cut government spending (which is not necessarily the best choice right now), and he thinks the place to start is the NSF.
To top it off, he's too lazy to do his own research. So he put up a website where teabaggers can search NSF grants and report the ones that make them feel stupid. Here's the guidance he gave on finding wasteful grants:

In the "Search Award For" field, try some keywords, such as: success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus, etc. to bring up grants. If you find a grant that you believe is a waste of your taxdollars, be sure to record the award number.

Yes, Cantor is coining the word "taxdollar." Worse yet, he thinks that "museum" is a word that marks wasteful projects.

I've asked it before, and not gotten any compelling counter argument: Is conservative Republicanism epistemically incompatible with science?

But hey, there's no Republican war on science.

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Conservatives seem to believe that Science is the enemy of Religion. They think that if they can beat down Science, they'll advance the cause Faith. After all, why fund science when the Bible is the only textbook we really need? These folks hear "Science," but they think Atheism, Abortion, Assisted Suicide, Evolution, Gay Marriage, Darwinism... All of which scare them to death. (Particularly since this War on Christmas business is working quite a few of them into a froth at this very moment.)

And to be particularly open regarding my own bias, here--I'm a former museum employee and an atheist.

Conservatives seem to believe that Science is the enemy of Religion. They think that if they can beat down Science, they'll advance the cause Faith. After all, why fund science when the Bible is the only textbook we really need? These folks hear "Science," but they think Atheism, Abortion, Assisted Suicide, Evolution... All of which scare them to death. (Particularly since this War on Christmas business is working quite a few of them into a froth at this very moment.)

And to be particularly open regarding my own bias, here--I'm a former museum employee and an atheist.

This is just the same as Proxmire did a number of years ago. The real question is that some of the social science research, (for a lot of the research likely to be cited is social science) appears to be unnecessary. This relates to the overall science industries unwillingness to confront the fact that a research professor should only have maybe 5 or fewer students in a career. The number should be 1 to replace the scientist plus as many as do not go into faculty positions. It has been clear for 30 years that the numbers of Phds really exceed the demand for them thus the lengthing of the post-doc period. In addition the new trend where adjuncts are hired to do the teaching will more shrink the demand for research professors. We really need a new degree similar to the old engineers degree, more than a masters but oriented to work in the real world, and not dependent on a research component as its final element. Academia is in a bubble now and will be downsized soon. Research will go back to teaching, and the vast increase in the number of institutions will be slowed if not stopped.

I think Cantor is as much of an asshat as the next scientist does, but your logic on the word "museum" is faulty. Unless you think that Cantor is suggesting that the word "success" is also indicative of wasteful projects? Good catch on the coinage of a new word, though!

By Katharine (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

"Is conservative Republicanism epistemically incompatible with science?"

Of course, by their nature they are static creatures... totally contrary to evolution.

By burlivesleftnut (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

The biggest irony in Cantor's case is that his congressional district encompasses Monticello and Montpelier, the domiciles of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. What has happened in Cantor's district is disenlightenment, and he evidently wishes to spread it far and wide.

By Bob Carlson (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

Unless you think that Cantor is suggesting that the word "success" is also indicative of wasteful projects?

I suspect that he's suggesting precisely that. A lot of NSF projects which are focused on diversity and support for underrepresented groups have "success" in the title.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

This is what you get when you have a culture of people who are utterly incompetent at math. (Which, let's be honest, is our general culture, not just the teabaggers.) They think that by attacking an agency that gets 0.2% of the federal budget, they can make a difference in the budget deficit.


Letâs hope his readers donât get confused with that 'media', 'culture', 'stimulus ', etc., have particular meanings in some areas of science. (Biology, for example.)

They are not interested in reducing the budget deficit. They are openly and gleefully stating that they are sabotaging the country - security, jobs, budget, economy, everything - in order to make life miserable for everyone, in order to oust Democrats from power in 2012. Can that count as treason? Aren't they supposed to at least pretend they are part of the government, trying to run the country for the benefit of its citizens?

This is only one part of their strategy to get their voters riled up against the "liberal elites" so they come out to vote in two years. Nasty, dirty politics and nothing more. They are not interested in governing (and when they do have power, they demonstrate they have no idea what governing even means - they do something like "ruling" the country instead). Power-lust plain and simple. Getting power, writing laws that get them even more money, and people be damned - they laugh at poor people while they throw thousands of dollars on hookers. And billions of dollars on wars that make them feel oh so masculine.

For about 30 years GOP has not been a really legitimate political party, as they did not have the best interest of the country at heart, in their platform, or in their rhetoric. It is so obvious for someone who did not grow up here, but watched from aside with clear vision, then got here and studied it up in detail. Why do American think that GOP is legitimate? Is because the media treats them so?

Ugh. Please quit trying to say Christians are against science. This is simply not true and none of us Christians feel this way. I'm an astrophysics Phd and a Christian. The two are by no means mutually exclusive. The only people who say we are anti-science are religion bashers. Starting your argument with a ridiculous statement about how Christians seem to believe "Science is the enemy of Religion" even though you'd find zero Christians who would agree with that is stupidity. I don't put words in your mouth. What if I came at you with "so how long have you been beating your wife?" In arguing logic that's called begging the question and is a form of a falacious argument. Please argue a real point instead of your unfounded notion that Christians hate science.

By nick brown (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

Nick, I don't know which page you were reading, but nobody has said anything about Christians. The story is talking about Republicans, and as far as I can tell, so is every comment.

Ivy: "Conservatives seem to believe that Science is the enemy of Religion."

I'd say that conservatives believe that science is the enemy of their base. That certainly includes the Christian Right (which fuels their anti-evolution tendencies), but it also includes a lot of businesses whose bottom line is threatened by scientific findings. The petroleum industry in particular is a big offender in climate change denialism. As usual, it pays to follow the money.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

Anon at #12,

You would have to read Ivy's comment at the top to see why nick brown's response. I think it's reasonable to assume that Ivy is talking about conservative Christians, most of whom are also Republican.

I don't know much about Eric Cantor or his politics, but I think pursuing a "surgical" approach to the NSF budget, rather than simply proposing an arbitrary cut to its funding, is laudable. Too many officials on both sides of the aisle seem to prefer the axe to the scalpel when it comes to trimming a budget.

I also think you have a particularly dim view of democracy if you see a forum inviting citizen input as simply a "website where teabaggers can search NSF grants and report the ones that make them feel stupid." Cantor's staff can sift through the replies it gets, disregarding the ones written in all caps (or that are otherwise blatantly idiotic), and fact-check the reports of waste or inefficiency that seem most credible. This approach strikes me not as "lazy" (there's nothing here to suggest that Cantor is not also "doing his own research") but as thorough. Even a Congressperson's staff operates on a non-infinite budget. A good researcher enlists as much help as he practically can, to make sure he's not missing anything.

Or am I missing the point? Is the search for waste and inefficiency in the NSF budget a wild goose chase? Is any and all spending on anything under the umbrella of "science" necessarily optimal?

No doubt Cantor is trying to stir up people to make fun of the NSF. All politics these days seems to be about stirring up people to make fun of something instead of working on solutions to pressing problems. Like when scientists get stirred up to pick on Disco Chapman for thinking that Oakland would be considered part of the San Francisco cultural district, also includes Silicon Valley, rather than say SoCal, Orange County (than Whittier) or Santa Barbara; and thinking further that the shift would be an interesting data point.

Science at its root is adversarial, but politics shouldn't be. Neither should religion, but far too often it is, humans being what they are. Let's all just don't, eh?

Brandon, thanks for the link.

There's no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of politicians--of all political stripes--engage in smoke-and-mirrors "responsibility" grandstanding, solely for political gain. That being said, if your argument is that the "mere" $6.5 billion appropriated to the NSF is inconsequential, I have to disagree. If enough waste and inefficiency is identified to justify excising, say, half a billion dollars from the NSF's budget, then the federal government will be half a billion dollars (annually) closer to fiscal sustainability. Nobody's saying that this one tiny step will balance the budget, but the point is that we should look for wasteful spending--or organizational structures that encourage wasteful spending--across the board.

A good example of what I'm talking about is the Pentagon's recent decision to require defense "mentors" to disclose their potential conflicts of interest. See

("Yes, Secretary Gates, I wholeheartedly recommend allocating a half trillion dollars to the F-22 Raptor program. Never mind that I own stock in Lockheed Martin.")

The federal government can't realistically get back to fiscal sustainability by slashing any one program. But you know the old saying--"a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

"He wants to cut government spending (which is not necessarily the best choice right now), and he thinks the place to start is the NSF." Holy sh*it. Are there really people that think we SHOULDN'T cut gov't spending? Really? We in debt over 1 trillion for the second year in a row for goodness sakes. I say, yes to cuts at the NSF and EVERY SINGLE GOV'T AGENCY. They should ALL be cut. How is this so fu**ing hard to understand?

BV, the argument is made that increased government spending stimulates the economy (by more than the amount spent) while spending cuts result is higher unemployment (and not just from laid-off bureaucrats). Therefore, the argument goes, we should not cut spending during a time of already high unemployment.

Better economists than me disagree sharply over this theory, so I'm not going to weigh in on whether or to what degree it is correct. The problem is--whether you think deficit spending is stimulative or not--that Uncle Sam is on track for insolvency. I don't think many people understand just how catastrophic a default on the national debt would be. Every time I hear some politician or pundit harping on the deficit or national debt, the complaint is always phrased in terms of "passing our burdens on to future generations." I say that the real problem is much more immediate.

So yes, I agree that we should look for wasteful or inefficient government programs to cut, consolidate, or otherwise modify. But as I said in my last reply, I prefer a "scalpel" approach to an "axe."

This is what you get when you have a nation of idiots that know nothing about what scientific investigation is about.

They don't know about model organisms, they don't know about the complexity of ecosystems, they don't know about the fact that their actions have global impacts, they don't know about trophic webs, they don't know about biochemistry, they don't know about radioactivity, they don't know squat about anything.

And we allow the smarmiest, the most amoral, the most socially-oversensitive, and the most squeamish and backward of them all to control our tax dollars.

By Katharine (not verified) on 03 Dec 2010 #permalink

Surely, nick brown the religiobot astrophysicist, you have heard of fundamentalists.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding among the religious of all stripes what science actually is and they say they support it while at the same time many are creobots or global warming denialists or geocentrists or some other variety of believer of derived nonsense, which may or may not have anything to do with the nonsense that is their religion.

Religion is inherently anti-science in that it makes presuppositions of the existence of things that are not supported by empirical evidence.

By Katharine (not verified) on 03 Dec 2010 #permalink

Religion is inherently anti-science in that it makes presuppositions of the existence of things that are not supported by empirical evidence.

That is not anti-science. Anti-science would be denigrating or contradicting or attacking an empirical existence of things, or of attacking science as a way of knowing (e.g. "western science" memes).

Science, by the way, sometimes does make presuppositions of the existence of things that are not supported by empirical evidence (numerous examples just in cosmology). The difference is that science then tries to find ways to test/detect/gain supportive evidence for these things.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 03 Dec 2010 #permalink

Nick Brown,

It's all very well to say that Christians aren't ALL anti-science, but there's plenty of empirical evidence that right-wing authoritarian followers, the people to whom Cantor is pandering, tend to be Christian AND conservative AND anti-science. Lovely that you're bucking the trend, but the trend is there.

See Neil Degrasse Tyson's take here:

But I wonder: If science budgets fell during Clinton and rose during Bush, was it mainly Congress that caused it, and not the president's administration? The next two years could see science budgets fall under a Democratic administration, due to Republican congress (House, anyway).

Ah yes, a FOCUS, SPECIFICALLY on CUTTING (NOT INCREASING) 0.2% of government spending which reliably returns AT LEAST 25% on the investment to the national economy and technological wherewithal of the nation. Nay, a pretty solid argument supported by evidence can be made that fully half of the nation's economic health comes from government-funded science research conducted by universities and government-run facilities, the other half coming from the R&D invested by corporations who in large measure follow the lead of the basic science conducted by government-funded basic research at universities.

Oh, yeah, sure. These imbeciles really must have the best economic interests of the country at heart, don't they?

Progress, you know. That hard road along which one must invest real money and effort to gain any headway on it.

Where else does anyone imagine economic strength ultimately comes from? From petitions offered to some invisible Authority through the invincible conduit of hopeful wishes? Just make a wish in your head and it comes true? Is that how the real world works?

Oh, I forgot the importance of wealthy interests making that certain phone call or email to one's equally deluded representatives in power, just to ensure they know that their position is well supported by a lots of folks who have been cultivated by the money expended by those interests (to the tune of at least 0.5% of that expended by the government on science research).


Looks rather like a concerted effort to defuse the importance of science on the gamble that faith in the population will render greater short-term rewards in obtaining political power, doesn't it?

These people don't even entertain the tennets of their own faith, such as that their invisible Master helps only those who help themselves. In any nation of citizens who have a responsibility to operate under rules which are demonstrably dictated by nature and revealed ONLY with some economic investment and effort in science, it should be astonishing that such a paltry investment of 0.2% by the government on science has managed to stem the tide of fundamentalist religious and "conservative" hypocrisy and irrationalism which has so gloriously benefits from it yet seeks to stamp it out.

If they were REALLY serious about the health of the economy and fixing the government's budget deficit, they would pay "taxdollars" like the rest of us. That would, according to a quick but properly conservative calculation, take care of at least 10% of the nation's deficit, "taxdollar-wise". Enough to fund at least 50 times the amount now spent on basic science research, which in turn drives the friggin' economy in the first place.

And all you 'christians' who indignantly insist that your faith does not necessarily mean you are anti-science can all step up any time - any time at all - and help thwart the unconscionable distortion of your faith as well as the distortion orchestrated by forces of the christian right. You cannot ignore what is plain as day and continue to wash your hands of it as if you do not really have a stake. If the word "shame" has any meaning left, it would most properly be attached to the likes of you.

Anchor, are you saying that every single "taxdollar" passing through the NSF is necessarily money well spent? Again, I know nothing about Cantor's politics in general, but this push to identify the most wasteful uses of NSF funding doesn't strike me as particularly "anti-science." If anything, it will (ideally) introduce a Darwinian element to the grant process, weeding out those uses of scarce "taxdollars" that are least likely to yield significant benefits to society. I'm not about to start sifting through NSF grants to form my own informed opinion about Cantor's allegations of waste, but IF he is correct, then turning loose a few wolves to weed out the weak and sick will ultimately benefit the total herd of NSF grant recipients.

I'm not naive enough to take any politician's initiatives at face value, and this move of Cantor's is no doubt (at least in part) a politically motivated publicity stunt. However, I have a hard time attributing it to an "anti-science" crusade unless I make a lot of assumptions about Cantor's motives. Taking a more (ahem) *scientific* approach to Cantor's iniative (drawing rational inferences from observation instead of emotionally-charged presumptions), my cursory inspection of Cantor's site did not turn up anything I would describe as anti-science. Additional relevant information could easily persuade me otherwise, but vague generalizations, however passionately delivered, fail in this regard.

BTW, the challenge you issue to Christians to "help thwart the unconscionable distortion of your faith as well as the distortion orchestrated by forces of the Christian right" has already been met. Active debates exist within all but the most authoritarian Christian communities (a small proportion, believe it or not) concerning a broad spectrum of scientific, social, and philosophical issues. Your antipathy towards Christians in general suggests that you're probably not a regular within the forums in which these debates take place. I suspect that your highly generalized view of Christians is heavily dependent upon stereotypes and/or a highly biased sample (e.g. blog trolls, loudmouth idiots who end up in the news, Congressmen, etc.)

Who's paying for the NSF grants? The tooth-fairy? No, it's taxpayers footing the bill. If you want to take money from the taxpayer pocket, maybe you should be prepared when the taxpayer wants a say in how it's spent.

And please stop acting like every single conservative is a dim-witted nut. I'm a major conservative, normally voting a libertarian ballot. I don't enjoy the fact that some republicans promote ID or deny climate change. Instead of calling me a teabagger, how about you work with us to put pressure for an open government, something neither party can seem to handle.

If conservatives are upset with the NSF budget, only 1/500th or so of the entire US budget, why aren't they absolutely OUTRAGED at the military and social-safety-net budgets, each roughly 1/3 of the 3.5 trillion? Why isn't the indignation proportional to the amount of money involved?

Why does Cantor bully NSF and not the military, for example? I mean, just take a look at all the military aircraft taxpayers have paid for:…
Most of those start at $50 million a piece, many cost far more. For example, just seven B-2s cost as much as the ENTIRE NSF budget (~7 billion)! If he's truly concerned about overspending and the deficit, why isn't he focusing on the big enchiladas in the budget? Surely those would yield far greater savings, no? NSF grants are nickel-and-dime stuff at best in comparison.

By Sean McCorkle (not verified) on 05 Dec 2010 #permalink