AAAS Op-Ed Defends Research Mocked by Coburn-McCain Report

In an op-ed on Politico.com, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner today denounced a report by U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and John McCain (R-Arizona) that satirizes cherry-picked research projects and misrepresents a number of valid research investigations as government waste.

Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of Science, wrote that by seizing on individual projects and casting them as frivolous, the Coburn-McCain report, Summertime Blues, uses the same tactic employed by the late Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin), founder of the “Golden Fleece Awards.”

“The latest incarnation of Proxmire’s tactic targets legitimate behavioral as well as climate research,” Leshner noted in the Politico.com op-ed. “A study of Venus might help explain the extent to which heat on Earth is transported by oceans versus the atmosphere. Yet, Summertime Blues turns this into a punch line about space ‘weather.’”

Similarly, Leshner wrote, the report mocks strategies for preserving genetic material for disease studies; advanced research into the treatment of cocaine addiction; and an investigation of thousands of ant species that could guide efforts to preserve biodiversity and elucidate antibiotic mechanisms.

Alan I. Leshner

Alan I. Leshner

He urged policy-makers not to react to budget concerns by targeting federal research, noting that “sustained support for science is essential for real growth.”

The federal research and development budget “isn’t exactly bloated,” Leshner pointed out. “Under President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposal, federal research and development funding would drop by 0.3 percent compared to 2010—back to the same inflation-adjusted funding level as in 2005.”

Read the op-ed by AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner on Politico.com, “Coburn-McCain report goes too far.”