WASHINGTON — A musical called “The Great Immensity” made its New York premiere in 2014, the product of nearly $700,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation. Aimed at increasing awareness of the widespread impacts of climate change, the musical featured one song that explained the emergence of the global economy and another on the extinction of the passenger pigeon. It was widely panned.
The production, however, made a brief comeback earlier this year — not on stage, but in an outline of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s authorization and oversight plan. According to the committee, grant awards like the ones used to fund the musical necessitated a crackdown: Lawmakers must ensure that all grants serve “the national interest.”
Another obscene example of why things go terribly wrong and have been for a long, long time. It is a disservice and a great deal of monetary waste. The Chairman of the House Committe on Science, Space, and Technology is retiring. And he happens to be a lawyer. What?? Why was a lawyer in that commanding position, instead of a scientist or somebody with proper knowledge and training. To mind comes a name like Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson. Now, the big question and scare: if not him, why not another qualified candidate instead of saying again, a lawyer???
Spends $700k on a “science musical” and then wonders why someone wants better accounting? How do those researchers who were denied grant money feel about the $700k? Is the NSF running some sort of scheme like the Producers? Every researcher has a duty to their funders to not waste the money, or at least not invite the audit. This is an unforced error committed because we started listening to the social “scientists”.
No one is wondering why Congress wants good accounting. I think we are wondering about the subjective nature of deciding what is in the “nation’s best interest” and whom is deciding. There are many topics or issues studied using government funding opportunities which seem trivial, but end up helping society in the long run. Like this example from the article: “A fear of pursuing science outside the mainstream…could prevent the type of research that often leads to major and unexpected scientific advances…One of last year’s Golden Goose Recipients went posthumously to the pair of scientists who dedicated their lives to studying the reproductive habits of screwworm flies. The project drew scorn initially, but ended up saving the country’s beef industry billions of dollars.” Obviously, the $700k in question was in the pot of money given to boost public education and awareness of a specific scientific topic. To determine the opportunity cost of that money would require review of the other grant applications specific to that objective, not just all NSF funding in general; maybe that was the best proposal.
You’ve made the mistake they hoped you would. That’s why they pulled that out of the woodwork.
1) If the musical, or any other form of communication, had not been panned and drawn huge audiences, it would have done exactly what it was intended to do, and that is educate on science. Educating on science is in the national interest, obviously. So this is a waste because it failed, not because using money for education is not a legitimate use of science money.
2) Some projects fail. Others succeed. You don’t judge whether a project was in the national interest based on failure rate, or NASA would never have gotten to the moon. Do you realize how much money was literally burned up on launch pads and desert testing grounds to send that one small capsule into space? Most experiments fail. We learn as much from failure as success.
3) This is not about wasted money. When they say “national interest” they are not actually using budget terms. That’s already covered in fraud, waste, and abuse regulations. You can’t, for instance, buy yourself a diamond studded desk chair and call it a necessary piece of lab equipment. National Interest implies that some of what they do is in the interest of… what? Some other nation’s interest? Their personal interest? The interest of science? ALL science research is in our national interest. Our nation is interested in science. Period. But declaring *some* science not in the national interest is what dictatorships and communist countries regularly do, to control the *political* direction of science. “Hey, this determination that sarin gas is persistent in the soil would mean we can’t use it anymore. This is not in our national interest.” Get it? It’s a purely political determination, *not* a budgetary one.
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