Science Friday: driving without headlights
The Arecibo radiotelescope observatory is a top scientific instrument, unique in all the world. In addition to looking deeply into the universe, it is also the highest-resolution device we have for mapping Earth-colliding objects. It can probe the Moon for water, and much, much more. It’s a tremendous bargain at $8m/yr to run.
Why do instruments like the Hubble and Arecibo, which are great bargains, have to go begging for funds, while flashy wasteful projects like the International Space Station go on hemorrhaging our tax dollars and returning nothing? (Just for comparison, you could run Arecibo for 1,600 years for what it will cost to finish the scientifically useless International Space Station.) One reason could be that in a jaw-dropping 1994 act of bean-counting foolishness, the Republican-controlled congress closed the Office of Technology Assessment, the non-partisan scientific auditing arm of our legislative branch. This is like not replacing the headlights on your car to save lunch money.
There’s a proposal and a petition to bring back the OTA. There’s certainly never been a better time to spend a little bit of dough to make sure we’re getting the biggest bang for our science buck. Check out the link, write your congressman, sign the petition, and help unlobotomize Congress.
- Mark has an update in Bring back the OTAIII – history of the OTA. For an idea of how the office evolved and what it accomplished during its existence.
- Mike the Mad Biologist posts about the ignorance of the political class – definitely worth a read.
- Washington Post: Radio telescope and its budget hang in the balance (from ***Dave)