On the one hand, I'm fuming over the Majority Leader-Elect's website asking for "citizen review"of National Science Foundation grants based on the abstracts online. Presumably this will be used as an excuse to cut NSF funding by a commensurate amount. All researchers like myself who work on topics to which the public can be uninformedly "reactive" (e.g., evolution, sexual reproduction, species formation) are obviously shocked and worried.
On the other, while not dwelling on the obvious deficiencies (being generous) of this idea, let me put out a thought for comment/ discussion. Do we, as scientists, do enough to inform the broader public about the importance of our research, or scientific research in general? The NSF and NIH ask that we have a short "public relevance" statement in our grant proposals, but I know that many of us put little or no energy on this statement (and frequently leave it as a few sentences packed with impenetrable jargon, possibly ending with "including humans"). Obviously, scientists are not a uniform group- some spend a ton of time speaking in public forums and are otherwise engaged with their local or national communities. However, my uninformed guess is that such scientists are in the minority- many of us rarely escape the ivory tower, and some even get resentful at having to justify "valuable basic research" to the "lay public" or even to colleagues doing applied research.
Similarly, we often complain bitterly when school board members take stances against ideas we know to be true. But how often do we present those facts "we know to be true" to the broader public, hence educating well-intentioned but misguided school board members? Heck, how often do we even vote in school board elections, except when reacting to a crisis?
We know science. We know it darn well. Politicians and school board members don't know it nearly as well, and it's unreasonable to think that they would. We can say they should just leave us alone, but they won't (and shouldn't)- their, and everyone's, tax dollars fund the science that we do. It's incumbent on us, those who know science, to make the impact of science far more clear to the public. We can do this through: 1) taking those "public relevance" statements in our grant proposals far more seriously, 2) maintaining websites that actually explain what we do and why anyone should care, 3) being pro-active in reaching out to schools and public presentation forums to provide resources & lectures, 4) becoming engaged in our community through informed voting and writing to politicians, and 5) many, many more possibilities. Yes, our time is limited, and academic scientists often work 50-60 hour weeks already. But we have to do it, and there are resources to help us (here's the plug for our university science writer, especially if as great as ours here at Duke!). Irrespective, we can expect a lot more misguided (again, being very generous) proposals like this one to cut funding to research. Let's just put some effort at minimizing their impact.