Gage Skidmore / Flickr Ted Cruz...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Republicans have developed an abiding love for Inspector General investigations, and now a group of Senators including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, James Lankford, and James Inhofe are calling for another critical deep dive into a threat facing America—the National Science Foundation. The Republican quartet has requested that the Inspector General charged with reviewing the NSF dig into the fact that grants were awarded just for conducting research, but for telling people the results of research. Or, as Ted Cruz puts it for seeking “to influence political and social debate.”

After all, if Republican positions are dependent on lies, then attempting to educate the public becomes a political act. And that’s exactly the position Republicans are taking.

At the center of the furor is a project headed by researchers from George Mason University, NASA, and NOAA called “TV Meteorologists as Local Climate Change Educators.” The point of this project is that climate change is already affecting the lives of Americans across the country. Climate change may not be the direct cause of every storm or every drought, but it’s behind them all, reshaping the weather that Americans experience and steadily bringing new, unprecedented conditions that affect all of us. It’s a program designed to do exactly what it says—help inform local meteorologists about how climate in affecting their forecasts, so they can pass that information along to the public. Because an informed public is critical to making rational decisions.

Like people in many countries, most Americans view climate change as a threat that is distant in space (i.e., not here), time (i.e., not now), and species (i.e., not us). To manage risk and avoid harm, it is imperative that the public, professionals, and policy-makers make decisions with an informed understanding of our changing climate.

However, an ignorant public is critical to making Republican decisions. So Cruz, Paul, Lankford, and Inhofe are deeply, deeply concerned about the idea that weather people on the local TV might spread information that goes beyond today’s high temperature—such as explaining why those temperatures are so high. In a familiar act of Republican kung-fu, Cruz and company have declared that since climate change is a “politically contentious viewpoint” then attempting to inform anyone about it represents “propaganda.” One more time: Republican senators are saying that providing scientific information to people who are themselves scientists in the public view … is propagandizing. 

It’s not the only grant they are attacking. Also worth of investigation according to these Republicans—a program to encourage engineers to help the poor.

The other grant that the Republican four have called on the IG to investigate is a program sponsored by the University of Colorado. It’s clear that the title of this project, “Engineering Dissent: Moving Political Engagement for Social Justice from the Vanguard into the Mainstream of the Engineering Profession” set off every alarm in republican brains.

But the program isn’t about engineering vacuums to suck funds from billionaire’s wallets (that’s the job of Republican think tanks and Ted Cruz PACs). The examples provided are how bringing clean waters to communities can stave off displacement, and how good engineering can actually prevent problems down the road. It’s a “stitch in time” approach that goes straight to the point of how engineering of everything from infrastructure to architecture can create communities that are more livable. And it’s a project that is meant to address a concern that engineers share with almost everyone in almost every field—the desire to make a positive impact on the world through their work.

This project is motivated by the desire of a growing number of engineers to see their profession more deeply engaged in social justice work. The investigators aim to strengthen the role of social justice in engineering by, (a) mapping the evolution of social justice in the culture of the profession, and then (b) sharing the findings (of effective channels of advocacy) with engineering student groups and professional member societies.

But if clean water and safe neighborhoods are anathema to Republican sensibilities, so is the idea that engineers might want to seek justice in their work. After all, once you show an engineer that she might use her skills to improve the lives of thousands, how are you going to get her back on the fracking rig?

Incredibly, Cruz, Paul, Lankford, and Inhofe are arguing that these two grants constitute using government funds for political activity, and are violations of the Hatch Act. Which appears to be nothing short of a declaration that educating people and seeking justice, are activities that only Democrats support. Which is an amazing admission … but true.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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