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(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Congress Just Gave American Science a Major Boost, And Senator Rand Paul Is Furious

Science: 1, Rand Paul: 0

25 MAR 2018

Early in the morning on Friday, the US Senate passed the omnibus spending bill, a massive US$1.3 trillion bill that will keep the government running until the end of September. Despite all of Senator Rand Paul's complaints, President Trump has signed the bill into law.


On Thursday night, upon the bill's release, Republican Senator Rand Paul let everyone on Twitter know how furious he was with the proposed budget.

As he combed through the 2,232 page document, the Senator live-tweeted every criticism that popped into his head.

The very first? The "ever wasteful" US$6 billion allocated to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In today's day and age, the US government funds less than 50 percent of all basic research in America. For comparison's sake, back in the 1960s and '70s, the US government funded around 70 percent of all basic research.

NIB datacheck DRUPAL

But for Senator Paul, the previous cuts to scientific research don't go far enough - mostly because he doesn't see basic research as a worthwhile endeavour.

The quail and cocaine study is commonly referenced by those who criticize extra funding for basic research.

The study first became a national punching bag for conservatives when it was listed by Republican Senator Tom Coburn as one of the many government grants he considers a waste of money.


Yet far from being some useless study, the quail and cocaine grant was awarded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to try and prevent STIs among coke abusers.

"Why Japanese quail? Cocaine abuse in humans has been shown clinically that it leads to risky sexual behavior, they have more sexual partners, and that leads to more sexually transmitted diseases," said James Tracy, the vice president for research at the University of Kentucky.

"It's important to look what is behind the title [of the study]," he said.

Still, in Paul's expert opinion, such a silly grant is a "monstrous" use of public funds. 

It wasn't just basic research that Paul was complaining about.

He also ranted about a whole bunch of other "useless" allowances contained in the budget, including boosts to education funding, environmental funding, international student scholarships and meteorological research.

Meanwhile, pro-science advocates have praised the omnibus for putting a priority on science.

In the proposed budget, the NIH will get a $3 billion increase and NASA will get more than $20.7 billion, which is $1.6 billion more than what the administration originally requested.


Such a massive boost means NASA can now restore four Earth science programs that were going to be cancelled.

The budget also provides $100 million for the space agency's education program, which the administration also wanted to eliminate, and provides some much-needed funding for several key NASA telescopes.

In the end, Paul's late night Twitter tantrum did no good, and his threats to shut down the government like he did in February were ultimately hollow. On Friday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell convinced Paul to let the bill go through as is.

"It's never really been about how long we stay here. But it is to a certain extent, when you lose, trying to draw attention to your cause," Paul told reporters late Thursday night.

"We look for victories any way we can, knowing that we don't have the votes to win."

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