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The FIRST Trap
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The GOP’s Looming Assault On Science

By James Donahue

Those elected Republicans occupying seats of power in Washington are busy planning yet another assault on things long valued by Americans. This time they are going after scientific research.

The bill is aptly named to conceal the poison written within its pages of rhetoric. They are calling it the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act of 2014,” or FIRST for short. It is the brainchild of the House committee on Science, Space and Technology. Within this bill is the machinery designed to “weed out projects whose cost can’t be justified or whose sociological purpose is not apparent.”

Watch out for vague descriptive phrases like this packaged in bills with names that describe the very opposite of what is written in them. Just about any research project in any laboratory in America can be construed by someone to lack “sociological purpose” or contain “unjustified costs.”

In their teabagger-driven quest to cut government spending (without considering a halt to the war, expenditures on the Industrial Military Complex, or raising taxes on the rich), this lame-brained pack of dimwits is busy generating a bill that will allow them to clamp a lid on government grants for just about anything going on in the nation’s research laboratories.

It reminds us of the time George W. Bush blocked funding for embryonic stem cell research because he perceived the use of stem cells from human embryos in vitro as a form of murder. That decision set research on new and innovative cures for human suffering on the back burner for eight dark years.
Talk about flinging us back into the dark ages. These idiots with tea bags dangling from their hats and pockets are trudging along like zombies toward the edge of a medieval cliff at a time when amazing new scientific discoveries are being made by researchers all over the world. And they seem to want to bring everybody in America back into the dark ages with them.

Critics of the FIRST Act warn that it “represents a dangerous injection of politics into science and a direct assault on the much-cherished peer-review process by which grants are awarded.”

Instead of giving the task of choosing the recipients of the grant money to learned men and women in the field of science, the bill puts the power of selection squarely into the hands of the Congress, whose members may or may not understand why the money is needed, or make bad choices for political or financial reasons.

The bill also would prevent grant recipients from seeking grant money from other sources, thus limiting the amount of money available for important research work. And after receiving grant funding for five years, the recipients can only qualify for additional money if their projects offer “original creative and trans-formative research.”

Thus we have even more ambiguous phrases in the bill that can be skillfully used to put the brakes on important research money, with decisions being made by people who have little understanding of what they are doing.

As one writer put it: “Scientists shudder at the idea that they, let along politicians, can definitively tell whether research will pay dividends after half a decade.” We all know that some research projects take years before they bring results.

While it is still in the early stages of being written and tinkered with, the FIRST Act has yet to go before the science committee for a vote. And after this, if it gets approval, it must go before the two houses and across the President’s desk. We can only hope this piece of dangerous but carefully concealed legislation never sees the light of day.