The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Revive the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

Our friends at Science Debate have passed along to me an announcement about a political push to reopen the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).  The OTA used to provide valuable scientific & technological advice to Congress – that is, it did before Congress, in its short-sightedness, closed the OTA in the mid-1990s.  For more information on this campaign, read on and please consider getting involved…

Most of the major challenges now facing the nation revolve around science.  Of the 535 members of Congress, how many do you suppose are scientists and engineers?  Here’s the answer: three physicists, one chemist, six engineers including a biomedical engineer, and one microbiologist.  How many do you suppose are lawyers, who often avoided science classes like the plague?  225.  It’s little wonder we see more rhetoric than facts.  It would be less of a problem if Congress had a science advisory body that gave it quality, non-partisan advice.  Advice that could save billions by preventing costly policy or spending errors that are not informed by the best available science.  They used to, and it was called the Office of Technology Assessment .  But they closed that 15 years ago to save a relative pittance.  Since then, the science-based challenges facing the nation have multiplied.  Congressional staffers need access to timely and top quality science advice on the issues before their Members.  Today, there are at least two efforts that we are aware of to revive Congress’s science and technology advisory body.  Working with Science Debate co-chair and U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), the Union of Concerned Scientists has organized a letter from scientists supporting the revival of the OTA that is open for signature.

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2 Responses to “Revive the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment”

  1. Matt – There is at least one other effort to open the OTA, this effort is sponsored by Darlene Cavalier (who was a “Science Debate” steering committee member). Darlene is the founder of the “Science Cheerleader” website and co-founder of the “Science for Citizens” website. Darlene as been advocating for the reopening of the OTA for several years now, but she has an interesting spin on it: Not only should experts have a voice at the OTA, but the public should also. My understanding is that the orginal OTA had a directive to accept public input, but back before the days of the internet, it was logistically impossible to implement. We now have the technology to facillatate greater public input. Yeah, this opens the door for cranks and woo-wooers to muddy up the waters, and yet in our democracy it is important for all people to have a chance to let their voices be heard.

  2. [...] by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2010 Last March I posted about a growing movement among scientists to restore the defunct U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) which has been [...]

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