Summarized nicely on Science Insider, Senator Ted Cruz, new chair of the science and space panel in the Senate Commerce Committee (how he was qualified to take on this position, to this day, completely baffles me) has claimed that earth sciences do not qualify as “hard science”. Other congressional Republicans seem to agree, including the new chair of an important science spending panel in the House of Representatives, Representative John Culberson (R–TX). Culberson has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the earth sciences don’t meet his definition of “the pure sciences.”
Let’s start with the Mirriam-Webster definition of “science” (which in my opinion clearly applies to Earth Science) –
: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation
: a particular area of scientific study (such as biology, physics, or chemistry) : a particular branch of science
From Science Insider:
“We’ve seen a disproportionate increase in the amount of federal funds going to the earth sciences program at the expense of funding for exploration and space operations, planetary sciences, heliophysics, and astrophysics, which I believe are all rooted in exploration and should be central to NASA’s core mission,” Cruz said at yesterday’s hearing on NASA’s 2016 budget request. “We need to get back to the hard sciences, to manned space exploration, and to the innovation that has been integral to NASA.”
The idea that the geosciences aren’t hard science comes as a shock to Margaret Leinen, president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and a former head of the National Science Foundation’s geosciences directorate. “Of course the geosciences are part of the hard sciences,” says Leinen, head of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and vice chancellor for marine sciences at the University of California, San Diego. “They provide us with very fundamental knowledge about the way the planet works, knowledge grounded in the physical sciences.”
Leinen easily ticks off a host of areas, from analyzing the complex mixtures of physical processes and chemical reactions in the atmosphere and the ocean to characterizing earthquakes, in which geoscientists have made important contributions to physics and chemistry. Geosciences can also be computationally intensive, she says, noting that for many years the world’s most powerful computer was Japan’s so-called Earth Simulator. Modeling future earthquakes in California, for example, requires “some of the most challenging computer simulations in the world,” she adds.
She also scoffs at the attempt to decouple the earth sciences from planetary sciences, a discipline Cruz and Culberson strongly favor. “Our entire exploration of Mars is based on analogies with the Earth,” she points out. That’s also true, she says, for the search for extraterrestrial life on water-rich planets and moons, a burning passion for Culberson.
Universities have long recognized that connection, she points out. “Virtually all academic planetary scientists are in earth science departments, because the Earth, after all, is a planet,” she says.
WHY are those MOST unqualified to make decisions on scientific spending calling the shots (as we’ve mentioned before)? And furthermore, why are they REFUSING time and time again to be educated on the subject matter? Doesn’t it seem curious that someone with very little background or training in the sciences gets to make decisions on what sciences will get funding? Especially when they can’t even understand the basic definitions of what science is??? There’s a way around this: become educated on a subject either by hiring staff who ARE educated, or by consulting with trained professionals (aka – scientists). When one ignores the facts and data from the informed constituents, our entire political system makes no sense. Would these politicians hire a dentist to run their campaign?? I would think not.
It is beyond obvious how the Earth Sciences are important and relevant to a VARIETY of other sciences (including space exploration, biology, environmental science, chemistry, etc, etc). While the ignorant claim that Earth Science is not a hard science is absolutely horrifying and backwards, on a larger scale, I get worried about this inevitable catch 22 cycle. Unqualified politicians are making decisions that are detrimental our research and education system, as a result, research becomes stagnated and our society becomes ill-informed. Consequently society elects the more unqualified and uneducated politicians.