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The Office of Technology Assessment was established in 1972 to provide committees and individual members of Congress with objective, scientifically accepted advice about complicated science and technology issues.  In 1995, after the Republican takeover of Congress, the OTA was abolished-- in part because of Speaker Gingrich's eccentric view that members should seek out scientists among their own consitutents for consultation, but mainly because objective advice wasn't useful for a party driven by corporate and socially conservative interest groups (this is documented in Chris Mooney's "The Republican War on Science").  Absent OTA, members of Congress are now less able to make and (perhaps more importantly) justify decisions about science and technology policy, leaving Congress as a whole increaingly unmoored from reality.

Now that the Democrats have regained control of both houses of Congress, we-- scientists and non-scientists-- have a unique opportunity to push reinstatement of the OTA onto the agenda for January.  The principle that Congress should operate with the highest standard of information dovetails neatly with the idea that Congress should operate with the highest standard of ethics, making OTA restoration mesh perfectly with items already on the Democrats' agenda.  Establishing an in-house advisory unit should do more good in the long run than offering advice on specific issues (stem cell research, climate change, etc.) ourselves-- it's the difference between teaching a man to fish and giving a man a fish.  And this is a step that Congress can take by itself, without having to get presidential approval.

This is my first diary ever because I feel so strongly that we should take advantage of this opportunity, but I'm definitely not the first person to make this suggestion.  David Greenberg made the case in 2003:

Chris Mooney made it in 2005 (previewing his book):

and Ralph Nader made it again earlier this year:

As the last article reports, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) tried in 2004 to reinstate the OTA.  A more concerted effort by an engaged Democratic leadership given the new balance of power should do better this time around.  I've already written my congressman and senators to ask for their support.

Originally posted to Expat Texan on Thu Nov 09, 2006 at 11:12 AM PST.


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