‘The media’s deliberate stupidity’

Tom Marcinko @ 13-03-2009

beePresident Obama’s budget includes a mere $1.7 million, or 0.00041 percent of spending, for honeybee research. Jamison Foser notes that some politicians find that outrageous or hilarious, but that the debate — if you can call it that — over budget earmarks misses an an important point as far as bees are concerned:

Honeybees are pretty important. See, humans need food. Without it, we die. And bees not only produce honey, they pollinate all kinds of crops — onions, cashews, celery, strawberries, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, apples … you get the picture. Honeybees play an important role in our food supply, and our economy. And honeybees have been disappearing at an alarming rate in recent years, for reasons that are not fully known.

It might be useful to know why. And, while admitting that earmarks might not be the best way to fund research, it might also be useful if politicians would stop criticizing things they don’t understand just because they sound funny. Volcano monitoring, planetarium projectors, fruit-fly research, and studies of the DNA of  threatened species called grizzly bears all come to mind.

But if polticians can’t be bothered to understand, and behave like short-sighted anti-space senators in early Arthur C. Clarke, is it too much to ask that our media could be bothered to investigate claims and counterclaims, instead of chortling like Beavis and Butthead?

[Bee picture by Robert Seber]

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4 Responses to “‘The media’s deliberate stupidity’”

  1. Robert Koslover says:

    Earmarks for scientific research are almost always inappropriate, not because the projects in question are necessarily unworthy, but because they are judged and funded based heavily on political machinations, rather than any objective and open process. For example, honeybee research could easily be supported by the National Science Foundation, or by several other US Govt agencies that fund broad areas of scientific research. In such a case, the Govt would publicly solicit (via the FedBizOpps website) proposals for honeybee-related R&D on a nationwide basis, and evaluate the liekly many proposals received in an unbiased manner, without regard for the political district in which any of the bidding organizations, individuals, universities, etc, just happen to live or do business. This kind of open process is actually the standard approach for most R&D funded by the US Govt. It stands in stark contrast to funding via earmarks, where an organization seeking money typically just lobbies their own local congressman for funding, no competition takes place, and there is little if any peer review prior to a resulting earmark becoming law. By all means, fund honeybee research. But do it the right way. Earmarks generally make for bad law and questionable science. So please support science, but oppose earmarks. Thank you.

  2. Tom Marcinko says:

    Good points.

    Noting only that some of the most vocal scolds marked some ears for their own districts, for hilarious-sounding projects like termite research, forage animal research, a coral reef institute, and cotton-insect management.

    None of which stopped them from grandstanding.

  3. Brian Carnell says:

    Agreed, but you should have returned to the headline. The reason McCain goes after funny sounding research is precisely because the sort of nuanced way Robert puts it just doesn’t sell newspapers or get people to tune in. If it doesn’t have a clever name or slogan, no one cares. I think *that* is the real media stupidity, but sadly it is merely a product of what their audience wants.

  4. Tom Marcinko says:

    It really is a phenomenon worth noting in & of itself. We’ve all heard of lowest common denominator; nobody ever went broke underestimating…, etc.

    An overseas friend commented that the USA is the only country he knows of where Presidential candidates try to seem dumber than they really are. (Some don’t have to try so hard, admittedly.) And we’re used to the idea of our *entertainment* being dumb. But the *news media* used to have at least some pride in accuracy, truth-to-power, and all that good stuff.

    So, yeah, if the media is being deliberately stupid — and I think you can make the case that so much of it is — then that is really going to have some consequences in a world facing so many complex problems, some of them downright science-y.

    Do people in Europe have a chance to see Stephen Colbert’s show?