Let’s Beat up the Nerds

Pat was a shy, chubby girl. She wore thick glasses with frames that would come back into fashion years after she had stopped caring about whether people liked her. But now she cared very much.

She tried to be normal, she never bragged about her grades, but people knew. Her classmates, who were being tracked into jobs at Hel-Mart or Manifest Coal, were jealous. They were watching Pat. They knew she had a secret.

And indeed she did. She pinned all her hopes on the science fair. For over a year she had been teasing out a protein from the jelly around tadpole eggs. Using all her allowance to buy the pipettes and chemicals she needed, keeping meticulous notebooks. Her ambition was huge–to create a desalinizing membrane.

She only needed one thing from her science teacher–

“Mr. Ludd, can I use the precision scale? I need to measure something for my science fair project.”

“Still playing with those tadpoles?” Mr. Ludd asked condescendingly. The other kids caught his tone and giggled.

And from then on, Pat was known as Tadpole Girl. Her classmates, who had lived with an unfocused sense that they were being disrespected, as indeed they were, now had a target. By the time Pat was out of middle school, she’d learned her lesson. You can see her today behind the cash register at Hel-Mart. She’s good at math, but cashiers don’t need that skill now.

Okay– following the example of Felicia Ackerman, who has more degrees than I can shake a stick at, I made all that up.

But if you want to beat up on something, it’s really easy to diss the biological sciences. They are the funny-sounding, nerdy stepchildren. No Lost Arks or rockets to Mars. That’s probably why Senator McCain, in his hunt for earmarks in the stimulus plan, pulled out a number of expenditures to make fun of, and per columnist Maureen Dowd, they are heavy on the biological sciences.

McCain might have reconsidered after Bobby Jindal decided to make an example of ‘volcano monitoring’ just before Mt. Redoubt started to rumble. It’s spitting distance from Fairbanks, Alaska, where the real Americans all live. And it’s odd that Jindal would be laughing off natural disasters. Would he have vetoed ‘levy improvement’ if he’d been Governor in 2004?

Anyway, here’s from Dowd’s column in the NYT…

Before the Senate resoundingly defeated a McCain amendment on Tuesday that would have shorn 9,000 earmarks worth $7.7 billion from the $410 billion spending bill, the Arizona senator twittered lists of offensive bipartisan pork, including:

• $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York. “quick peel me a grape,” McCain twittered.

• $1.7 million for a honey bee factory in Weslaco, Tex.

• $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa.

• $1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah. “Is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits?” McCain tweeted.

• $819,000 for catfish genetics research in Alabama.

• $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi.

• $951,500 for Sustainable Las Vegas. (McCain, a devotee of Vegas and gambling, must really be against earmarks if he doesn’t want to “sustain” Vegas.)

• $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii, as McCain twittered, “because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy.”

• $167,000 for the Autry National Center for the American West in Los Angeles. “Hopefully for a Back in the Saddle Again exhibit,” McCain tweeted sarcastically.

• $238,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii. “During these tough economic times with Americans out of work,” McCain twittered.

• $200,000 for a tattoo removal violence outreach program to help gang members or others shed visible signs of their past. “REALLY?” McCain twittered.

• $209,000 to improve blueberry production and efficiency in Georgia.

“When do we turn off the spigots?” Senator McCain said in his cri de coeur on the Senate floor. “Haven’t we learned anything? Bills like this jeopardize our future.”

I don’t know whether these are worthy projects or pork, but I do notice that most of them are biological science grants and were chosen because they sound funny. I feel kind of disrespected here. Reform and transparency are needed and Senator McCain is on solid ground in his work for that. But don’t try to get me outraged because a grant (rather small) is going to Sustainable Las Vegas. Vegas is going to be a monumental ruin if they don’t figure out their water problem. And astronomy, if Sen. McCain recalls that Apollo Moon Landing thing, just might pay off. Beating up on the nerds instead of supporting the sciences will win him friends in the anti-evolution base, but it won’t help our country build a 21st century economy.

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One response

  1. Kiersten Marek | Reply

    This reply is from Donald Wolberg, mistakenly put on a different thread:

    I would humbly suggest that these are most likely modest projects of modest interest with modest funding prospects from traditional biological/scientific sources, or commerical interests (food industry, for example) of which there still are many sources, at more modest funding levels. None is of cutting edge scientific import, and many are not worth much or are already being worked.Those of modest import require very modest funding, frequently availbale within individual universities. Much of the money will be “received” as overhead expenses for the bureaucrats at colleges and universities and never reach the researchers. Finally, noe of this should be in a publill appropriation and contributes to the further infusion of politics into science, theoretical or applied.

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