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Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) - Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology - has introduced a bill that would give Smith's committee and its Senate counterpart the power to control what science is funded, and force researchers to compete for grants on a political rather than scientific basis.  If the legislation were to pass, it would mean that Chairman Smith - a Forced Birth zealot, a climate denier who has openly promoted conspiracy theories against scientists, and the man who appointed Creationist lunatic Paul Broun (R-GA) as Chairman of the committee's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight - would have the power to not only dictate what research is undertaken, but in effect (though not explicitly) to determine the official results of research that does take place.

Spanish Inquisition

We know where this story goes from here, because it has happened so many times in history that it's basically a sick joke.  At first, scientists who come up with the "wrong" results find themselves having to jump through additional hoops to get funding while fringe characters whose dubious opinions are politically convenient suddenly find themselves given wide latitude to spend the public's money.  Then the former find themselves being given "suggestions" about ways their findings might be interpreted to inspire less "concern" from the authorities - an alternative choice of wording here, an added caveat there, a difference of emphasis.  Meanwhile, the relationship between the latter and the authorities gets very chummy, and this type of researcher is very eager to be "cooperative."

Ultimately real science is simply exiled from the public sector and in its place, authorities like Rep. Smith are writing their own scientific findings based on whatever nonsense the Republican Party, the US Chamber of Commerce, or the Christian Coalition wants to promote with taxpayer money, under the imprimatur of the United States government, and under the heading of "science."  We have already seen what this looks like in the way the government treats marijuana, by force of law preventing official acknowledgement of the overwhelming scientific consensus about its medicinal benefits and relatively benign drawbacks compared to many legal substances and pharmaceuticals.  

But unlike marijuana, there is no vast, everyday culture of engagement with evolutionary science or long-term climatic trends to laugh in the face of political interference: These are scientific understandings that are at best poorly grasped even by the reasonably informed public, and that depend on strong institutional commitment to be promulgated and advanced.  Every once in a while there may be a natural disaster or another day of temperature superlatives that feed into the overwhelming evidence for climate change, but if no one is allowed to talk about it authoritatively, there is little impact to vague public suspicion in the absence of expert findings and intelligent policy-making.  And human evolution is even more vulnerable, because when it's exiled from the public sector and replaced with religious propaganda, what ordinary person can simply intuit such a complex truth based on arguments that are systematically excised from society?

They can't stop science from proceeding: All they can do is guarantee that the United States will no longer be a relevant factor in a given field of research, much as the Soviet Union instantly made itself irrelevant in biology by Stalin's insistence on promoting Lysenkoism over genetics.  That's what makes anti-science nuttery so infuriating: It is utterly futile, and merely victimizes the people of one society by maliciously imposing lies on them while the rest of the world keeps advancing.  The fanaticism of early Christianity merely relocated the locus of scientific progress to the Middle East and East Asia.  Later Catholic dogmatism assured that fields of science it suppressed in the Renaissance merely flourished elsewhere, in Protestant societies.  And in the 20th century, Soviet suppression of genetics simply relocated it to the West.  Are Americans to be denied a place of leadership in evolutionary science and the environment because Republicans are pathological liars who think the truth is whatever Power says it is?

The Republican Party is a degenerate force in our society representing destructive, backward, barbarous elements seemingly incapable of either reason or decency, and so I can't for the life of me find this latest attempt on their part to censor science surprising.  Science is concerned with the intelligent examination of objective facts, and authoritarian minds have no use for such unvarnished reality - to them facts are nothing more than unpolished stones that must be carefully remolded (i.e., corrupted) into far more convenient Lies, if not hidden altogether for the sake of "moral" piety and political expediency.  Conservatism in America is a malignant cancer that won't stop until it has reversed every inch of human progress made since Galileo, or until enlightened people stand up for civilization.


12:35 AM PT: There seem to be a number of versions of the bill floating around, and thus some confusion about what it exactly does.  The one I've seen interjects the named committees into a grant process that normally only answers to peer review, basically putting Republican ideologues in charge of what is "worthy" science.  But the Scientific American homepage headline says that the bill would allow these committees to actually directly censor research findings.  There might be a version doing so, or that might be a subtle legal consequence of the overt language I've seen.  It's not clear.

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