Monthly Archive for March, 2009

Restart the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment

Gerald L. Epstein | Science Progress | March 31, 2009

An article gives a brief history of OTA and argues that the Congress needs technical support much more today than when OTA was orginally created.  The article also points out that OTA is not just for scientists:

Ironically, the scientific community’s strong support for OTA may have created the false impression that OTA primarily served to support scientists. This is like saying that television weather announcers primarily serve to support professional meteorologists—which is, of course, precisely backwards. Meteorologists already know the weather. The role of television weather announcers is to take meteorological forecasts, turn them into language the rest of us can understand, and enable us all to make better plans. The scientific community supported OTA not because it benefitted scientists directly, but because it enabled members of Congress to make better decisions about policy issues with significant scientific and technological components.

The Future of Foresight under Obama

Eric Meade | The Extreme Future | February 2009

A blog entry says that the new administration marks a change in our society’s views of the future and a chance to renew support of programs that that engage in active foresight.  A few such programs from the 70’s were mentioned:  the Office of Technology Assessment and The Congressional Clearinghouse for the Future.  According to the blog,

In 1974, the House Select Committee on Committees stipulated that each standing committee “shall review and study on a continuing basis undertake futures research and forecasting on matters within its jurisdiction,” a rarely observed requirement that remains on the books to this day.

The entry says, “Regardless of what specific values emerge during the next four years or beyond, it is clear that the U.S. is ready for a new approach to the future that envisions and creates the type of world we would like to give to our children.”

Fix Congress’s SciTech Lobotomy

Steve Mirsky |Scientific American: 60-Second Science |February 19, 2009

A podcast about science advice to Congress from a session at the AAAS annual meeting says, “Time to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment.”  Statements by Rep. Rush Holt and Lou Branscomb offered reasons for restoring OTA.

U.S. Science Remains Far From Its Rightful Place

Laura Sanders | Science News | March 14, 2009

In a column (interview) about the state of U. S. science, Rush Holt (D-NJ) says he is troubled that many people have a bad attitude about science.  He said, “This attitude is seen with the latest stimulus package, where people go on the House floor — members of Congress — and ridicule the idea of funding science. They did!”

To explain why he thinks that science is important, Holt said,

It is from science that we get the innovation that provides productivity and growth for the future economy, so it is critically important for our economic well-being. It also adds to our quality of life in material ways. But I think most scientists still feel that there is a higher calling to what they do, that understanding how things work is an end in itself, and it’s a glorious end in itself.

Where legislators get their science information, according to Rep. Holt:

Well, in many cases, they don’t. They get it from whoever was the last person to visit their office, who may or may not know anything about science….

We should return to vibrancy the Office of Technology Assessment, which was abolished 14 years ago now. OTA was a terrific resource for anticipating the [scientific] questions that were coming up. It worked very well, and we can restore it just as it was, to very good effect.

About plans to reinstate OTA, Holt said, “I try again every year. I’m trying again this year.”