The Sciences

The Right Messenger? Hillary Calls for Reviving OTA

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyOct 11, 2007 4:59 PM

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Well, I guess our first few Hillary posts were pretty positive...but with Sparticus's post, things turned vicious in a hurry! And now, I'm here to pile on a bit with some slight criticism. Let me explain. Lots of us here at ScienceBlogs want the once world-renowned Office of Technology Assessment, or a close equivalent, to return to work for the U.S. Congress. And according to her speech, so does Senator Clinton. This, in turn, has led to statements like the following on Wikipedia: "Recently, Hillary Clinton pledged to restore the Office if elected President." But there's just one problem here--separation of powers. OTA was originally founded by the Congress because it lacked access to the type of technocratic expertise available to the executive branch, with all its agencies and all its scientists. OTA was, in a sense, Congress's own special bullshit detector--and it frequently trained its attention on bogus claims by presidents and their administrations. A case in point: OTA essentially shot down Reagan's "Star Wars" fantasy, explaining why it a) wouldn't work; and b) wouldn't make us more safe even if it did work. In this context, while of course we want Congress to have better science advice, is it appropriate for a presidential candidate to tell Congress precisely how to get that advice? I dunno, honestly. I guess it's a matter of tact. But if I were Hillary I might have treaded a bit more cautiously here. And certainly Wikipedia is incorrect to say that as president she can restore OTA. Congress, not the president, must do that. Speaking of which: What the heck are Democrats in Congress doing right now with regard to OTA? I'm not sure. I haven't put my ear to the ground recently. But I certainly hope there are plans afoot to improve the congressional science advisory mechanism...and I also hope to look into this further in the near future.

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