GOP to The Base? Wait! Come Back! We'll Talk About Sex!
If you managed to avoid cynicism in the first week of the administration, the congressional tussling over the stimulus plan might convince you that politics today is just what politics was before January 20th. No change.
The Republicans especially, seem intent on pushing the economy further into the tank while riling their party's baser instincts. Evidently at their wit's end trying to get their hand back in the till, the GOP engrosses itself in reinvigorating the lowest common denominator of civilian interests while Rome burns -- so to speak.
As Obama's team nudges Limbaugh towards the edge, the radio host's marbles spilling all over like codeine pills from some drug-addled alley dweller's puffy hands, the fine leaders of the GOP seem to be assuming his mantle. Smart move?
68 Pages of Science Management Challenges and the Honorable Senator Wants to Talk About Porn?
I was at first dubious about accusations that the GOP was baiting Democrats on funding for birth control and STD prevention in the stimulus bill. Oh please, I thought, reading this:
"Prompted by Drudge and Limbaugh, the Republicans are lurching around like less-cool, less-serious Beavis & Butthead knockoffs, snickering at the mere mention of birth control...say[ing] "STDs" and "contraceptives" on television and thus making the bill appear silly, salacious and borderline immoral."
I don't know whether STD funding belongs in the plan. But I am becoming convinced that some representatives in the GOP have a weird preoccupation with sex and derailing science. Today Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced he would try to halt $3 billion dollars worth of funds to the National Science Foundation (NSF) because of a 'porn scandal'. As he put it when announcing the six incidents of viewing porn reported by the NSF:
"The semiannual report raises real questions about how the National Science Foundation manages its resources, and Congress ought to demand a full accounting before it gives the agency another $3 billion in the stimulus bill"
Grassley, in a disingenuous interview with FOX News, reported that he was launching an inquiry and demanding "all documents" related to the NSF's findings so he could get to the bottom of the horrible scandal. On cue, the internet went wild with "ugghh" and "gross", and jokes about scientists who like sex, and "Go Grassley!" -- so intrepid -- protecting our interests like that.
OK. I'm a person who happens to be most intolerant of all aspects of the porn industry. I am also, like everyone else on earth, against government waste. I've approvingly covered Senator Grassley's efforts on other issues, lobbying, bisphenol A, etc. But c'mon, wake up.
Here's the full NSF 68 page semi-annual report to Congress from last year, with 3 pages of revelations about 6 cases of computer abuse involving porn during work hours.
The Senator is Launching an Inquiry? Getting More Details?
The only reason that the Senator got his hands on the apparent GOP treasure trove in the first place is that NSF is compelled by law to print for public consumption every last detail of its management oversight audits. This is good governance meant to expose waste. What private company sends you a biannual report that includes each sex scandal they're investigating? OK. So abiding by the governance standards set out in this law, the NSF wrote in great detail about:
"six cases of viewing, downloading, saving, and/or sharing pornographic images and videos, and one case of extensive participation in pornographic chat websites and the concomitant significant waste of official time."
This last, the most egregious case, was a "senior official" who has since been fired or left the agency. I assume the person has a problem. Like a prescription drug addiction. The report is very clear about the official's sacking, and the fact that "the agency has now installed filtering software" and is implementing further policy changes. I'm not saying $50,000 isn't a lot of waste, but are there some other priorities the GOP needs to focus on?
To me Grassley's interview with FOX, when he claims he doesn't know what the agency is doing or what happened to the individual, seems like nothing more than a gratuitous exchange about sex, with science as the scapegoat.
As far as I can tell there's nothing left for Grassley to "inquire about" or "investigate", unless he has some lurid agenda of his own. More details? All the documents? Who's the sick puppy here?
Studies Find that 25% of Employees with Computer Access Download Pornography. Audit Finds 6 Cases for Over 1000 NSF Employees
Six offenses found and thoroughly delineated. The NSF has over 1000 employees. To be fair, the report emphasized that the search was limited in scope. But these results are far from surprising. If anything the small numbers are unusual given the incidence of workplace computer misuse, especially in large companies.
Porn site hits are highest during office hours, according to M.J. McMahon, a company that tracks the adult video industry. You can read all about the widespread problem of pornography viewing and activities in the workplace. Ask Microsoft, ask IBM, ask financial companies, ask any company. They keep it low profile, for obvious reasons. The NSF is compelled by law to air it all publicly.
A Nielsen Online survey in October, 2008 found that 25% of employees who use the Internet visit porn sites during the workday. Perhaps fewer are purposeful, but various surveys have found similarly alarming results. Workplace computer misuse is persistent and increasing. It's quite awful but it has nothing to do with the NSF, with scientists, or reviving the economy.
Stay Focused People -- Change, America, Economy, Jobs...
Perhaps Chuck Grassley, with his affiliations to prayer breakfasts and the Family Research Council, with his stellar right to life credentials, has some agenda with sex. Perhaps science also falls conveniently in his sights, for reasons beyond me. I do know its a popular pairing, but a cheap shot.
"At the root of the McCain campaign's choice to play enfant terrible to scientists and science, there's a very popular ideology at work that will not die with an incoming Obama administration."
There's a lot of debate now about which initiatives will create jobs and which initiatives won't. Science initiatives do create jobs and strengthen the economy. Gratuitous talk about sex and family values with FOX News or Politico is, especially at this moment in history, a distraction.
There are more expensive and critical problems at the NSF that the report detailed in the other 65 pages of the report. These more serious challenges are relevant to science and to the NSF's mission. These more serious challenges are critical to the future of science in America, to the future of America. These issues were the focus of the report. The should also be the focus of congress and the focus of Americans. Today.