Do we seriously need a national “Science Laureate”?

posted at 10:01 am on September 14, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

I’m guessing that at least some of you will react with the same sense of confusion I experienced when you find out that we are facing a delay in having our nation’s first official Science Laureate.

Wait… we were going to have a Science Laureate?

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives was expected to give swift approval to a bill introduced this spring by a bipartisan coalition of legislators in both the House and the Senate. The legislation would allow the president to name not more than three laureates at a time to an unpaid position that could last up to 2 years. The idea was considered so innocuous that it was to be brought up under special rules requiring a two-thirds majority and allowing no amendments.

The bill was never discussed in any committee, however, and Larry Hart of the American Conservative Union hit the roof when he saw it on the House calendar for the next day. (The Washington, D.C.-based group calls itself “the oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization in the nation.”) In a letter to other conservative organizations and every House member, Hart said the bill would give President Barack Obama the opportunity to appoint someone “who will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases.” He also called the bill “a needless addition to the long list of presidential appointments.”

The House Republican leadership reacted immediately, pulling the bill from the floor schedule. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) had introduced the bill along with Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House science committee, and a House Democratic aide says “we had expected it to pass easily. It’s no secret that Ms. Lofgren and chairman Smith don’t see eye-to-eye on many things. But they agree on the value of creating this honorary position.”

We’ll get to whether or not this is really something we need to be doing in a moment, but some of the bill’s supporters are making arguments which don’t seem to make much sense. Take, for example, Randy Hultgren (R-IL), [SEE UPDATE] who said, “This is not a presidential appointment, and there would be no taxpayer money involved.”

That’s a rather odd argument for a bill which is described as one which would allow the president to name not more than three laureates at a time. If that doesn’t define a presidential appointment, I’m not exactly sure what it would be. Also, I’m seeing some comparisons out there to the Poet Laureate already, but simply saying that we have one of those opens the door to a Science Laureate doesn’t really carry much weight. The PL actually isn’t appointed by the President, but rather by the Library of Congress. It’s also a paid position, though at $35K per year you’re not exactly hitting the Lotto by winning the position. And frankly, it’s not that hard to make an argument why we’re spending $35K on it anyway.

If this proposed position isn’t an excuse to push partisan doctrine on science issues, what’s it for? Do we need somebody to go around reminding Americans that knowing stuff is good? To encourage kids to become scientists? Hey guys, we’ve got cable television now, and it comes with the Science Channel. I’m not sure exactly what the potential harm is to this proposal aside from giving each administration another tool to promote their own agenda – and not a very big one at that – but it’s tough to see what the value add is in swelling the bureaucracy even further with this bit of fluff.

UPDATE: (Jazz) I was contacted by a member of Congressman Hultgren’s staff who wished to point out that it was a staffer, not the Congressman, who gave that quote.

UPDATE 2: (Jazz) The Congressman’s office has further offered up the following as a response. Though I informed them I remained unconvinced and still don’t support the proposal, this is the feedback from Congressman Hultgren’s office.

In his first annual message to Congress in 1790, George Washington said: “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is, in every county, the surest basis of public happiness.” That’s pretty strong language. Washington felt it was the duty of Congress to promote science. Later, Abraham Lincoln signed into law the National Academy of Sciences, which will recommend the, yes, unpaid laureates to the President.

There’s danger in any authority Congress gives the President to use it for political means, and using this important program to push a political agenda (climate science or otherwise) is unacceptable. But this is not a political appointment in the traditional sense of the word. We would expect the President to rely on the Academy’s recommendations which would cover a wide array of science areas.

By creating this Science Laureate program, we’re building on the actions of Abraham Lincoln to carry out the will of George Washington and our founders—what can be more conservative than that?

As Rep. Hultgren said on the House floor: “Our children must see that science is something our nation values, or they will not make the sacrifices necessary for our next great discoveries. Our nation will not be leading the way through our next frontier if we do not inspire the next generation of great scientists.”


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I am skeptical that, unpaid or not, it doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money. There are always travel expenses and speeches and whatnot. And a few years from now somebody would say “hey, we aren’t paying these guys, this is a really eminent scientist, they deserve better”.

We need to be rescinding laws and reducing government. Any step to increase government, no matter how seemingly minor, means we’re not.

Fenris on September 14, 2013 at 10:10 AM

I am skeptical that, unpaid or not, it doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money.

Fenris on September 14, 2013 at 10:10 AM

You read my mind. Speeches, travel, and how about research? Got to have grants to fund research.

Wasn’t Obamacare supposed to be revenue neutral?

itsspideyman on September 14, 2013 at 10:19 AM

But they agree on the value of creating this honorary position.”

Why? It’s hard to endorse bi-partisanship when all they can do is come up with garbage like this and naming post offices.

Cindy Munford on September 14, 2013 at 10:25 AM

…Wasn’t Obamacare supposed to be revenue neutral?

itsspideyman on September 14, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Even better: It was supposed to decrease costs.

Fenris on September 14, 2013 at 10:25 AM

“the bill would give President Barack Obama the opportunity to appoint someone “who will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases.”

This is enough to condemn the idea. Science, like art, is not a political tool – this is not the Soviet Union.

This would be a propaganda minister for Obama’s agenda with a seemingly prestigious label, and for Democrat causes down the line.

Just the sort of disgusting idea Obama would have. Must be rejected.

Chessplayer on September 14, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Take, for example, Randy Hultgren (R-IL)

Please take him. Grrr… Little Boehner, Jr.

Science Laureate? How’s his poetry?

http://gladelys.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/white-lies-by-natasha-trethewey/

LOL

Fallon on September 14, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Do we seriously need a national “Science Laureate”?

Al Gore?

Dr. ZhivBlago on September 14, 2013 at 10:35 AM

“This is not a presidential appointment, and there would be no taxpayer money involved.”

…never is!

KOOLAID2 on September 14, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Really, when you think about it, shouldn’t Al Gore be the permanent Science Laureate?

flyoverland on September 14, 2013 at 10:52 AM

With all the problems this country faces, it sure is gratifying to see Congress handling the REALLY TOUGH issues.

Exit question:
If we abolished Congress, would anyone notice?

GarandFan on September 14, 2013 at 10:56 AM

This is awful, how will our national poet laureate, Maya Angelou, fare at the monthly laureate meeting without anyone else to talk to?

With a dying economy and savages surrounding us our federal government devoting even a minute to this garbage should be reason for imprisonment.

Bishop on September 14, 2013 at 11:11 AM

This is awful, how will our national poet laureate, Maya Angelou, fare at the monthly laureate meeting without anyone else to talk to?
With a dying economy and savages surrounding us our federal government devoting even a minute to this garbage should be reason for imprisonment.
Bishop on September 14, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Is that woman Maya Angelou our national poet laureate?

That woman is so overrated. She also sounds like a doofus when she speaks. It’s like she is trying to show everyone how educated she is by overpronouncing every stupid syllable. Whenever a black person recites a poem about slavery it seems like people try to go out of their way to say how powerful they think it is.

They ought to do away with all of these stupid national laureate titles. The whole thing is a crock.

bluegill on September 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I am skeptical that, unpaid or not, it doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money. There are always travel expenses and speeches and whatnot.

Fifty years ago, NASA had an annual budget of billions of dollars, back when a dollar was equivalent to about an ounce of silver. It eventually reached 4.5% of our national budget. Afterwards, we were told it was all worth it because of increased interest in the sciences leading to an innovative, prosperous country.

Now we’re going to nit-pick over a few thousand post-Bernanke dollars a year — maybe 0.000001% of our budget — to promote science? Calling it “swelling bureaucracy”? That’s insane. Let government try it. I think there are about a million other things in this government that are more worthy of the “Do we seriously need?” question than this.

calbear on September 14, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Yeah, get id of it. But also get rid of the Poet Laureate, too. It is useless and is used only to push left-wing stupidity. Plus art is dead in this post-beauty world, anyway. And you just know that this so-called Science Laureate would push global warming, abortion, and every manner of left-wingnut stuff.

Warner Todd Huston on September 14, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Every government that is full of itself needs to proffer titles of nobility. Get over it.

Dusty on September 14, 2013 at 11:36 AM

Because Science…moves Forward or something…

(Research links at the site)

Improbable Research…2013 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

MEDICINE PRIZE: Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Qi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Bashuda and Masanori Niimi, Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, vol. 7, no. 26, epub. March 23, 2012.

[JAPAN, UK], for assessing the effect of listening to opera, on heart transplant patients who are mice.

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Laurent Bègue [FRANCE], Brad Bushman [USA, UK, the NETHERLANDS, POLAND], Oulmann Zerhouni [FRANCE], Baptiste Subra
[FRANCE], and Medhi Ourabah

[FRANCE], for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive.

JOINT PRIZE IN BIOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY: Marie Dacke [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA], Emily Baird [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], Marcus Byrne [SOUTH AFRICA, UK], Clarke Scholtz [SOUTH AFRICA], and Eric J. Warrant [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY].

[SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.

SAFETY ENGINEERING PRIZE: The late Gustano Pizzo

[USA], for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers — the system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him into a package, then drops the encapsulated hijacker through the airplane’s specially-installed bomb bay doors, whence he parachutes to earth, where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Alberto Minetti [ITALY, UK, DENMARK, SWITZERLAND], Yuri Ivanenko [ITALY, RUSSIA, FRANCE], Germana Cappellini [ITALY], Nadia Dominici [ITALY, SWITZERLAND], and Francesco Lacquaniti

[ITALY], for discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond — if those people and that pond were on the moon.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Shinsuke Imai [JAPAN], Nobuaki Tsuge [JAPAN], Muneaki Tomotake [JAPAN], Yoshiaki Nagatome [JAPAN], Toshiyuki Nagata [JAPAN, GERMANY], and Hidehiko Kumgai

[JAPAN], for discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists previously realized.

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE: Brian Crandall [USA] and Peter Stahl [CANADA]

[CANADA, USA], for parboiling a dead shrew, and then swallowing the shrew without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days — all so they could see which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system, and which bones would not.

** PEACE PRIZE: Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding. **

PROBABILITY PRIZE: Bert Tolkamp [UK, the NETHERLANDS], Marie Haskell [UK], Fritha Langford [UK, CANADA], David Roberts [UK], and Colin Morgan [UK]

[UK], for making two related discoveries: First, that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up; and Second, that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again.

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde.

[THAILAND] for the medical techniques described in their report “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam” — techniques which they recommend, except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck.

http://www.improbable.com/ig/winners/#ig2013

workingclass artist on September 14, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Well I posted the 2013 Ig Nobel Prize Winners and maybe it’ll be released from Purgatory because this years winners are certainly Winning!

Here’s the link
http://www.improbable.com/ig/winners/#ig2013

workingclass artist on September 14, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Hard to pick a favorite 2013 Ig Nobel winner but this special category…

PEACE PRIZE: Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

http://www.improbable.com/ig/winners/#ig2013

workingclass artist on September 14, 2013 at 11:42 AM

Just one more institution for the long march progressives to take over and promote scientific socialism and any other settled by consensus “science”.

Gingey on September 14, 2013 at 11:47 AM

“This is not a presidential appointment, and there would be no taxpayer money involved.
– Randy Hultgren (R-IL)”

Yeah, both are involved. I won’t even bother with the first idiocy, but will merely point out the cost. You’ve already wasted money just considering this inanity. Money will be spent considering who to appoint. Money will be spent announcing the appointments. Money will be spent creating the certificates.

Lastly do you actually believe, once named, these laureates will go home never to do anything with them and the government won’t spend one red cent in the next 2 years with respect to these appointments? Do you serious mean to say that once the government has its laureates, they will make no use of them at all?

Dusty on September 14, 2013 at 11:50 AM

US Constitution: Article I Section 9 Clause 8:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States;…:

We should demand that anyone who votes for this be removed from office for violation of their oath of office to uphold and support the US Constitution.

The Poet Laureate (notice the capitalization, noting a title) should be removed also.

dominigan on September 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM

This country is clearly headed in the wrong direction and this is just one more incremental step to big government sclerosis. A Republican from Texas supported this? Seriously?

Gingey on September 14, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Government doing what it does best these days – GROW. Governing comes in at a weak fourth or fifth consideration. And governing WELL is a dying art.

Cleombrotus on September 14, 2013 at 12:05 PM

[calbear on September 14, 2013 at 11:35 AM]

Why do we need to promote science in this way? Doesn’t the government already do enough to promote science? Don’t we also have schools, businesses, and industries that can do that, that are doing that, already? Aren’t local efforts more effective than national efforts?

I’d suggest the best way for the federal government to promote science would be to stop giving grants and loans guarantees to science related industries that go bankrupt shortly after getting the money.

Finally, my concern is that appointment of science laureates will be used as an avenue to promote bad science or politically correct science than good science. When you mix anything with politics, you just get more politics.

Dusty on September 14, 2013 at 12:14 PM

I’d also suggest there is reason to think we don’t have a STEM “crisis”.

Dusty on September 14, 2013 at 12:17 PM

There is no purpose for a national science laureate. Therefore, there is no reason to create the position. Further, what dominigan says, above, is absolutely true.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on September 14, 2013 at 12:22 PM

They ought to do away with all of these stupid national laureate titles. The whole thing is a crock.

bluegill on September 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

As a visual artist I’ve always thought that the Poet Laureate thingy was Y’know…Prejudicial to 2D and 3D types…painters and sculptors.

There should be more Diversity in the Ranks of Pretentiousness!

Artists must Unionize or set up Worker Centers to Protest this affront to the Visual Arts Community…And Now a common scientist or engineer to wear the Prized Laurel Crown….

Rally…Rally…Rally!

Pickup your Paintbrushes & Chisels!

“Carthago delenda est!” (Carthage must be destroyed!)

*snicker*

workingclass artist on September 14, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Whatever happened to getting the car out of the ditch, Democrats? Wasn’t the car put into D five years ago by voters? Why all the remaining malaise, Democrats? 7.4% unemployment and the lowest participation rate since records began are getting to be the low bar for a Republican return to power.

ExpressoBold on September 14, 2013 at 12:50 PM

I nominate Dr. Robert Stadler.

Shy Guy on September 14, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Just another attempt to put another left wing fanatic in charge of something and before the cameras and academia. Poisonous.

pat on September 14, 2013 at 12:57 PM

Now we’re going to nit-pick over a few thousand post-Bernanke dollars a year — maybe 0.000001% of our budget — to promote science? Calling it “swelling bureaucracy”? That’s insane. Let government try it. I think there are about a million other things in this government that are more worthy of the “Do we seriously need?” question than this.

calbear on September 14, 2013 at 11:35 AM

This is an administration in which every decision is political. NASA’s next generation launch platform was scrapped and its mission redefined as some kind of Arab outreach. Chris Craft, the former head of Mission Control recently talked about the talent that this launch platform attracted that got discouraged and left. Rest assured the last thing that an Obama science laureate will be concerned with is science.

itsspideyman on September 14, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Jazz, by ‘this is not a Presidential appointment’ I think they mean that this wouldn’t be an appointed post that includes oversight, recommendation, or any duties to the federal government. It’s simply an honorarium.

As far as the hysteria over whether or not this President chooses someone that pushes his agenda. Mehh. The next one can ‘push’ ours. Plus when was the last time someone paid attention to all these awards and titles? I say let the science geeks have their annual prom.

Hostile Gospel on September 14, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Of course we do, That science needs to be SETTLED, DAMN IT!

WryTrvllr on September 14, 2013 at 2:14 PM

“…there would be no taxpayer money involved.”

Today, but Democrats would soon be demanding that they be paid like the Poet Laureate and by the way $35k is way too little, we need to make it at least $135k for such prestigious positions.

Sadly Republicans seem to be beyond learning. Handing the Democrats 3 big government global warming clubs which will be used to beat them up is plain stupid.

RJL on September 14, 2013 at 2:21 PM

America’s “Top Scientist” Science Laureate Dr. Bob Loblaw says climate change….

America’s Top Scientist says coal… blah blah… climate change…

The only reason for the science laureate. It isn’t just “most scientists” agree, but America’s Top Scientist agrees.

tdarrington on September 14, 2013 at 2:37 PM

As with all things publicly noted by the Federal government, this is nothing more or less than propaganda. Not benign “political correctness”, but hard, old-school propaganda.

Like the tripe spewed by our various “poets laureate”, this will never be our most important or accomplished scientist, but some high-profile academic doofus who enables the Minister of Propaganda to check the most boxes for their narrow ideological agenda, while never checking a single box that does not embrace the Emperor’s BS.

I read recently that distrust of the Federal government is at an all-time high. Hatred of the government must surely also be running off the charts.

Jaibones on September 14, 2013 at 3:09 PM

Science is dumb. God did it.
-Conservatives.

Politricks on September 14, 2013 at 7:30 PM

Science is dumb. God did it.
-Conservatives.

Politricks on September 14, 2013 at 7:30 PM

Science must be politically correct. Trofim Lysenko said so.
-Liberals

Dr. ZhivBlago on September 14, 2013 at 8:54 PM

Good science to the leftist is that which gives government more power over the people. Usually through hoaxes disguised in science. It is also the suppression of real science that hurts their feelings or works against their power.

On the other hand, it would backfire on the left in a big way. That guy couldn’t hide. He’d have to be available. Leftist scientists are usually in hiding, hiding their data, etc.

Buddahpundit on September 14, 2013 at 10:17 PM

The very concept of a Science Laureate is disgusting. It only takes one unexplained observation to undo years of “settled science”.

And those observations have often been made by laymen.

WryTrvllr on September 15, 2013 at 4:33 AM

[USA], for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers — the system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him into a package, then drops the encapsulated hijacker through the airplane’s specially-installed bomb bay doors, whence he parachutes to earth, where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival.

workingclass artist on September 14, 2013 at 11:37 AM

I like that idea, even better without the parachute ! :D

cableguy615 on September 15, 2013 at 8:11 AM

Long answer? “F” No! But I have that as no. 999 on a long list of do-we-seriously-need-a-fill-in-the-blank question.

racquetballer on September 15, 2013 at 12:25 PM

dominigan on September 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM

Great point. An unpaid post, outside of the government, is a “Title”.

On the other hand, he can name any number of “organizers” he wants for anything at all:

Abortion Laureate
Gay Marriage Laureate
Green Energy Laureate
Clean Air Laureate

Why would he need three science laureates? The answer is that as typical political hacks, they will be involved in public disgrace from time to time, like Weiner and Spitzer, so you need to have an unbroken stream of liberal pseudo-scientific drivel being fed to the press.

The whole thing is a waste of government time.

virgo on September 15, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Is that woman Maya Angelou our national poet laureate?

That woman is so overrated. She also sounds like a doofus when she speaks. It’s like she is trying to show everyone how educated she is by overpronouncing every stupid syllable. …

bluegill on September 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

That’s right. Cornel West is another over-pronouncer! They all sound like James Earl Jones.

virgo on September 15, 2013 at 1:42 PM

As Rep. Hultgren said on the House floor: “Our children must see that science is something our nation values, or they will not make the sacrifices necessary for our next great discoveries. Our nation will not be leading the way through our next frontier if we do not inspire the next generation of great scientists.”

Rather than waste time appointing a “Science Lauriate,” wouldn’t it be better to denounce AGW and stop spending money on anti-scientific foolishness? This would be more useful and would do more to convince folks that the government is serious about real science!!!

landlines on September 15, 2013 at 5:01 PM