Scientists Speak Out About Attacks on Science

23:12 minutes

Every year, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) releases his “Wastebook”—a collection of what he views as the year’s most wasteful government spending. This year’s edition singles out Caltech bioengineer John Dabiri’s work on plankton and ocean circulation, calling it “synchronized swimming for sea monkeys.”

That sort of distortion is one repercussion for popularizing science in press releases and the news media, Dabiri says. “There’s a double-edged sword to trying to make science more accessible,” he says. “I think it’s important that people understand what we’re doing in our laboratories, that it’s not this ivory tower endeavor. At the same time, I think in some cases you find these caricatures that arise.”

Conservation biologist Terrie Williams, another alum of the 2014 Wastebook, and marine biologist Will White, whose work on sex-changing fish was targeted by a conservative news site, look beyond the caricatures painted by politicians and pundits to discuss the real-world implications of their work. And congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) joins to talk about advocating for science in Washington.

[Note: Senator Coburn and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), head of the House Science Committee, were unable to participate]

In the clip below, Dabiri responds to the claim that his sea monkey research was wasteful spending.

Segment Guests

Terrie Williams

Terrie Williams is a biology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California.

Adam Schiff

Adam Schiff is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and two subcommittees that focus on science funding and foreign assistance, representing California’s 28th Congressional District in Burbank, California and Washington, D.C.

Will White

Will White is at the Department of Biology and Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington in Wilmington, North Carolina.

John Dabiri

John Dabiri is a professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University in Stanford, California.

Meet the Producer

About Christopher Intagliata

Christopher Intagliata was Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.