Text of Bob Palmer’s Remarks

April 27th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Bob Palmer, recently retired after 13 years as Democratic Staff director for the House Science Committee, gave a talk here at Colorado last week. We now have online have an audio file of his talk and also his prepared remarks.

Here are a few teasers:

“…for many years, both in the executive and legislative branches, there has been no consistent or focused debate about the roles of S&T in meeting our broader national goals, as I believe there has been about the rightful place of other aspects of our culture… So regrettably, I’ve concluded that science policy is in anything but a golden age. It is rusty. It is stagnant. Engagement between the two branches and the two political parties is minimal. The great debates of the day are being held somewhere else. To the extent that they occur at all, science policy debates have gone underground. In short, it is an excruciatingly boring and unproductive time for the practice of science policy in the halls of government. Now I apologize to any students who came to this talk excited about their future careers in science policy. You could say that I’m just a bitter, retired-to-Florida, out-of-power Democrat and you could well be right. Let me try to explain why I’ve reached this rather grim conclusion.”

“Do I see any of this bipartisan, government-wide engagement now? The answer is virtually none, not even at the meso-scale level. Why? In my perhaps overly partisan view, the problem started in the late 1980’s, when S&T became politicized in Congress as part of a broader strategy by Republicans to seize back control of the Congress – a goal which they eventually accomplished in the 1994 mid-term elections. It may surprise some of you to hear that the public partisan fight over science policy – exemplified today in the reports by Congressman Henry Waxman and the Union of Concerned Scientists – did not start during this Administration. It has actually been going on in the Congress for about 15 years. There have always been a lot of specific fights on science-related issues on the Hill (for example, building the Clinch River Breeder Reactor in the early 1980’s). But partisan fights were largely non-existent until the late 1980’s when Newt Gingrich – ironically now an outspoken and highly entertaining advocate for science – stirred up his followers in the House of Representatives to fight the Democrats on everything, including science. I can go into specifics in the question-and-answer session if anyone is interested, but let me just say that beginning in the late-1980s, we fought on all sorts of issues and with a spirit of meanness, that had not been seen for decades.”

The whole talk is worth listening to or reading.

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