Monday, August 23, 2010

Politics and Paleo

As members of the VertPaleo listserv may have recently noticed (or noticed for years now), politics and paleontology often don't go together. You can never make anyone in a group happy when you talk about politics to start off with, and it is generally wise to just keep your thoughts to yourself.

Politics recently entered the realm of paleontology again, this time to bitch about sending students on a trip to China. And, no suprise, it involved two of my "favorite" guys: Arizona Senator John McCain and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. You may remember our old friend Coburn who was a pain in the ass about PRPA. I guess these two guys (or thier interns and staff most likely) got together and put together a list of "100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues." [pdf link to report]

The 76th item on their list was a NSF funded trip for Montana State students to travel to China to study dinosaur eggs. Which they did. And sure, while they were over there, they saw things other than dinosaur eggs. So whats the big deal?  Its not like the school was spending the NSF money on extra trips to sight-see. But isn't it in the best interest of students visiting another country to experience all that country has to offer?

From the report:

Field Trip to Study Dinosaur Eggs…in China (Bozeman, MT) - $141,002463
This past spring, nine students from Montana State University (MSU) were given a six-week, all expense paid trip to China, funded by the National Science Foundation.464 MSU received a grant to send students to work with researchers at the Natural History Museum in Hangzhou studying various dinosaur eggs and other fossils.465 In a conversation with a local resident of Wuzhen, one of the students said “I told him that I was here to study dinosaur eggs. He replied with, ’Bloody hell! That’s the sort of thing you just can’t make up!’” While there, the students spent six weeks examining and cataloguing the eggs. As recorded on the group’s blog, however, they were still able to take plenty of time to let their hair down hiking on the Great Wall, spending a day at the Xixi National Wetland Park, exploring several small towns, visiting the opera, and touring the Tiatai temples. Not to worry though, according to one student blogger, “Believe it or not from previous blog posts, we have been hard at work doing research.” [page 39-40 of report]
Once again, politicians making a big deal out of nothing.

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster


Ian said...


I normally try to avoid talking about politics on the internet, but I must say this is absurd. It seems that these neocons really will bash anything to do with science. For example, a while back McCain listed "Promotion of Astronomy" on a similar list, Bobby Jindal dismissed "something called volcano monitoring," and Sarah Palin mocked fruitfly research. And I'm not even an ultra left wing liberal Democrat or anything like that. It's just that how can any scientifically minded person take this nonsense seriously?

tempus fugit à pressa said...

in China (Bozeman, MT) - $141,002463....?
I see your point

but the total cost is
$141,002? ok/ nine=$15,000 per person a little expensive
for a six week trip
in europe the same field trip cost is around 6,000 euros less than 8,000 US dolars

ReBecca Hunt-Foster said...

I agree Ian. Its a sad state of affairs!

I think the cost is not that high. You have to remember that any NSF grant that goes to the department, MSU is going to take a big chunk of that for overhead. I would not be surprised if they kept 10%! Then you have to remember there are nine students, but those students also had two professors (only one ended up going from what I understand, but they probably paid for 2), plus grad student assistants, plus any guides they had while they were in China. I am sure it was not $15K per student being spent, but its not cheep to take that many students to China for that long either. Its not like they were staying at the Hilton.

Dr. Matt Bonnan said...

I wonder if politicians of any stripe would be willing to submit their list of junkets and other expenses to cart them back and forth across the country. One could certainly argue that, with the internet, they really don't need all that face time with their constituents and other politicians. =)

The anti-science, anti-intellectual movement is always perplexing. I personally have come to believe it arises from a fear (justified or not) that science and technology somehow are replacing spirituality. A more cynical read of some politicians is that they know this is hot-button stuff, so they feed into paranoia about science to get re-elected.

Doug said...

Yeesh. I wrote a post a few days ago about the hardships of going to school to learn paleontology. Being harassed by ignorant self-serving politicians was not one of them, but i guess it is now...

chris y said...

I wonder if politicians of any stripe would be willing to submit their list of junkets and other expenses to cart them back and forth across the country.

In most countries they're legally obliged to. And to pay them back if deemed excessive. Are they not in America? I'm genuinely shocked.

Tor Bertin said...

Also, it's a three year project.