OTA Thread II

Let’s keep this ball rolling. On Friday we started talking about the importance of the OTA

It used to be, for about 20 years (from 1974 to 1995), there was an office on the Hill, named the Office of Technology Assessment, which worked for the legislative branch and provided non-partisan scientific reports relevant to policy discussions. It was a critical office, one that through thorough and complete analysis of the scientific literature gave politicians common facts from which to decide policy debates. In 1994, with the new Republican congress, the office was eliminated for the sake of budget cuts, but the cost in terms of damage to the quality of scientific debate on policy has been incalculable. Chris Mooney described it as Congress engaging in “a stunning act of self-lobotomy” in his book the Republican War on Science (RWOS at Amazon).

The fact of the matter is that our government is currently operating without any real scientific analysis of policy. Any member can introduce whatever set of facts they want, by employing some crank think tank to cherry-pick the scientific literature to suit any ideological agenda. This is truly should be a non-partisan issue. Everybody should want the government to be operating from one set of facts, ideally facts investigated by an independent body within the congress that is fiercely non-partisan, to set the bounds of legitimate debate. Everybody should want policy and policy debates to be based upon sound scientific ground. Everybody should want evidence-based government.

We’ve gotten some nice linkage so far:

Links so far:
PZ at Pharyngula
John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts
Major Geek’s LiveJournal
Ordinary Girl at Tales of an Ordinary Girl
John Pieret at Thoughts in a Haystack
Dave Bruggeman at Prometheus writing a month ago
Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub
Alex at the Yorkshire Ranter
Measured Against Reality
One Good Move
La Pobre Habladora at Second Innocence
Dan at Migrations
Mike Dunford at Questionable Authority – with links to presidential campaigns!
Jeremy Elton Jacquot at TreeHugger
Epicanis at the Big Room
Blue Sky Mining
Brian Thomas at Carbon-Based
Bora at Blog Around the Clock
suddenly south at the Cucking Stool
Geoff Davis at PhDs.org Engineering and Science Blog
Amanda at Enviroblog
Kate at Anterior Commissure
Chris Mooney at the Intersection
Paul Hutchinson at Paul Hutchinson’s Blog
Kent at Uncommon Ground
DOF at Decrepit Old Fool

As before we ask if you have a blog link this post, spread the word, and contact your senator or congressman about having this office re-established.

We believe that we can make this a political issue in the coming election. If candidates for office support science and reason period, they should support the idea that government and policy should be studied scientifically in a non-partisan and independent fashion. I also believe this can go a long way to undoing the influence of money in politics. While it’s probably impossible to truly expect congress to do away with lobbying or stop listening to crank think tanks, having independent and non-partisan scientific information presented routinely to congress can go a long way to balance out the ideologically-motivated nonsense that currently passes for science on Capitol hill.


  1. In 1994, with the new Republican congress, the [OTA] was eliminated for the sake of budget cuts

    Given that darn near every scientific fact comes out opposed to the Publican agenda, I have to think that more than budget cuts was involved.

  2. John D Wilkins

    It’s so easy to be right without a counterpoint; I thought it was apparent that the Republicans dismantled any walls of opposition so they could control their own “right-ness”…

    Everyone wants (if that’s possible) facts based government, that is everyone but those in the government. Control of facts seems to be the goal, and achieving that goal means they gain some mystical ‘power’. I wonder if their ideologies are based on a flying spaghetti monster…

  3. I’ve emailed the two MO senators and the Rep for my district. Next comes letter writing.

    I’m a physics grad student, and I’ll encourage everyone in my department to pester our politicians about this.

  4. FYI – La Pobre Habradora at Second Innocence has an invalid link to onegoodmove.

    I usually send letters because I don’t know how much politicians embrace the internet, but the tide may be turning now with campaign websites.

  5. Just so you know, the treehugger.com article about this is on Digg right now, so you’ll surely get some publicity out of that (I Dugg it, I suggest others do too).

  6. Why no dig me. Me sad.

  7. David Bruggeman

    Mark commented in the previous post on OTA thusly (I’ve been otherwise preoccupied):

    “One thing that I don’t think can be discounted is the importance of having the offices be within the legislative branch. Having scientists not just writing reports but regularly accessible to the members would be of great value. It was my understanding that the OTA wasn’t just a bunch of toilers in the basement, but people who cultivated relationships with the members and could be sought for routine advice beyond what was in the reports.”

    All great points. GAO is considered a Congressional agency, and I think has a strong enough reputation for independence and forward thinking that it could serve this capacity. Unfortunately three reports and dribbles of appropriations fail to provide enough data points to test my hypothesis.

    I think it might be wise to think in terms of what we would want this agency/program/whatever to do, should it be politically impractical to literally revive OTA. And if it isn’t impractical, some consideration of what functions a new OTA should have, and what changes might be made from it’s predecessor. Holt apparently did not do this when he introduced his OTA renewal bill. While the OTA did good work, it’s not clear that the same form or organization would be best now.

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