When life gives you s***, find the manure fork


TL;DR version – Will join me Friday in writing & calling our legislatures to argue for science and science education?

There are days that are rotten, and weeks that need a reset button. Sometimes moments of too much wrongness extend across months or even years. From health issues to job problems, at some point in life we all face these issues.

Right now it seems like shit is raining down on all of us who love science and learning.

This afternoon I reached a point where the realities in my twitter stream drove me to walk away from my desk, and go to the barn to muck stalls. I needed to take the metaphor of the day and turn it into literal throwing of shit in a useful manner where I could see solid results.

I didn’t find any answers at the barn, but at least I channeled my anger into something useful.

At the end of the day, the only thing I really know is that when I see a pile of shit, I need to find the manure fork and start shoveling.

I wish it was as easy to deal with the shit of life as it is to deal with the shit at the barn. It should be. We live in a democratic nation, and (in theory at least) we can affect change through our actions.

From concerns over the new budget, to fears about possible new legislation that could destroy peer review as we know it… We should be able prevent things that enough of us – a majority of us who participate in the share governance that is America – just speak out.

This Friday I’m going to set aside time to write to my representatives and I’m also going to pick up the phone and make some phone calls. Will you join me? While I’m not sure a pen is mightier than a pitchfork, I’m willing to give it a try. If I don’t try (and if you don’t try), I have no credibility to complain (and you none either).

Can we work together to make Friday a day to try and engender positive change, one written word at a time?

Here are the issues that weigh on me:

Shit Storm 1: The Segregation of Scientists and Educators

I’ve written about this a number of times. Put simply, the president’s proposed budget eliminates and/or consolidates dozens of science education programs scattered through out many different science agencies and by and large moves the money to the  Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian. A full list of programs affected can be found here. If what this list says comes to be, all the funding I currently have – that in some cases I thought I’d have for several years – is going away. I’m going to fight to find new funding, but I’ll acknowledge I’m scared for both myself and my staff. Beyond the perils this has for my own future, I find it highly concerning that this new way of budgeting science education means that the education specialists and the scientists are largely segregated.

Shit Storm 2: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) Seeks to End Peer Review & Replication of Research

In a further attempt to curtail duplication, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is drafting legislation that would essentially give congressional oversight to the funding of grants, and would forbid the funding of research that doesn’t meet criteria focused on advancing society (as opposed to knowledge), national defense, and aren’t replications or duplications of prior work (which means competing science teams can’t confirm or deny one another’s research). A summary of the draft legislation can be found here, and Phil Plait discusses it here.

As much as politics and personal bias does intrude into science – we are humans and act like it now and then – we try to judge things using a peer review system that allows science to by funded based on the intellectual merit of the work and the potential broader impacts the work will have on other sciences and on society. (A summary of the standards for NSF peer review can be found here.) The proposed legislation would radical change this system we trust and that the world holds in esteem.

Shit Storm 3: The Gutting of Planetary Science Funding

Last year $300 million was cut from the Planetary Science budget at NASA and this year’s budget largely maintains this cut, but also has earmarks asteroid recognizance, including $20million for near earth object detection to to $105 million to explore what would be necessary to potentially capture an asteroid. That is a whole lot of money going to asteroids. I’m not a planetary scientist, but I recognize that for science to be healthy we need a diversity of different research programs, and to maintain a continuity in training and the growth of knowledge, we can’t afford to starve any one area of science such that the young – our students – die off from lack of support. You can read an analysis of the budget by Casey Dreier at the Planetary Society. I’m worried not just for tomorrow’s research but also for the fate of the next generation of planetary science.

This isn’t just a democrat vs. republican thing 

Politically I am very much an independent. I voted for governor Romney and president Obama. When I think of America, I see it through the eyes of Alexis de Tocqueville and oscillate between the idealism of the rise of the individual, and a constant worry that materialism will lead to the selfishness of individualism dominating society. I want freedom: freedom of religion, freedom of gender identity and sexual orientation, freedom to move between social classes, and freedom to speak, think, and believe or not believe as we work toward building a progressive and educated culture. I also recognize that as humans we tend toward lazy and my ideals do not fit the nature of the human animal, and the reality of our nation will always fall short of the dreams it might strive for.

It took many elections and many years to get to the government that we have. Our government – by design – can’t do anything quickly, and can’t be changed quickly. Passing new laws is designed to be hard to do.

What can be done quickly, is it can be stopped from passing new laws / budgets / resolutions with just a few changed votes.

If we want to stop the above measures from taking effect we need to find our manure forks pens and start shoveling writing.

Will join me this Friday in making it a day for democratic action? Will you write letters, make phone calls, and make your voice heard? Together maybe we can sway minds and help make this nation safer for science.

You can look up the contact information for your legislators here: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml


  1. ZZ May 2, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    The US has retained global hegemony in science and technology over the decades DESPITE having a population that is deeply provincial and anti-intellectual in it’s attitudes, primarily by being so darn big as to generate a self-sustaining cadre of intellectually vigorous individuals simply by happenstance. Vox populi, vox humbug.

    I’ll try to help but I’m managing my expectations…

  2. Nyetwerke May 17, 2013 at 1:41 am #

    I tuned into the Space Hangout for MSL and kept coming back to that discussion because it had further reaching dialogue. I was particularly enthused about Dr Pamela Gay’s discussion about the realities of doing planetary science. It was much appreciated. As in regards to science education, it is disheartening to hear that legislators are not seeming to side with reason, or else I am hearing about/from those in least of a position to use evidence and reason to enact funding. Whenever I hear from someone in the UK mentioning the United States as now second rate in education and that the U.S. used to evaluate things better using evidence, I wonder where the U.S. is headed. I write to senators and representatives and sign petitions and provide funds but sometimes it seems like beating up the ocean. The U.S. seems to have this cultural paradigm that its okay to revel in ignorance because that is what they are being shown or rather flooded with. We need more positive, long term goals than bling culture.

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