In "The Republican War on Science" Chris Mooney referred to the Newt Gingrich-led Congress' decision to eliminate the Office of Technology Assessment as "a stunning act of self-lobotomy." If anything, he was lowballing the effects. For those of you who aren't familiar with this agency (and don't feel bad if you're not; it's been dead for 12 years), the OTA was a nonpartisan Congressional agency. It's job was to provide Congress with an objective analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues relevant to various issues that were relevant to measures under consideration.
Ostensibly, the OTA was a victim of budget cuts - Congress trimming some of its own "unnecessary" spending. In reality, it might have also been the one of the early victims of the surreality-based community's time in power. An agency that reports objective facts to Congress can get in trouble pretty quickly when reality itself has become a partisan issue. With reports containing controversial truths like, "sex education and AIDS education directed at school-aged youth do not increase sexual activity," and, "delay in responding [to climate change] may leave the nation poorly prepared to deal with the changes that do occur and may increase the possibility of impacts that are irreversible or otherwise very costly," it's not much of a surprise that they didn't do well under the Contract on America.
Mark Hoofnagle thinks that it's time to bring back the OTA. He's right. We need to return to reality-based governance. Bringing back the OTA would be a fantastic step in the right direction. Yes, it would mean spending money, but that shouldn't be a big deal. When it was killed, the OTA has an annual budget of about $22 million. To put that in perspective, that works out to an annual cost per American of well under one cent; it would fund the war in Iraq for about 155 minutes.
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This is a continuation of a post I wrote (and updated a couple of times) earlier today. Since the tsunami is no longer a possibility - it's an actual event - I thought a new title was probably a good idea. Here's the situation as it currently stands:
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a final watch statement for the event at 11:05 am Eastern time. They report that a tsunami was generated, and is currently traveling across the Indian Ocean. Based on the data that they have - currently, they have readings from three near-shore tide gauges and one deep-ocean gauge - the tsunami is small, and is not expected to cause damage in distant areas. (It should be noted, however, that PTWC's message also notes that they still only have limited access to sea level data in the Indian Ocean, and that they might be wrong about that.)
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A very large, shallow earthquake occurred at 11:10 UTC today. The earthquake epicenter is located in the Indian Ocean, about 375 miles from Jakarta, Indonesia, and is currently estimated at magnitude 7.9. The magnitude of the earthquake and the shallow depth of the quake have lead the Pacific Tsunami Warning center to put a tsunami watch into effect for the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are still not a lot of sea level gauges in the area, so it's not yet known if a tsunami occurred.
Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by the quake, and with those who might be affected if there is a tsunami.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is now estimating the magnitude of the quake at 8.2, and a few media reports have come in indicating that the quake caused buildings to sway for "several minutes" in Jakarta, and was felt in Singapore and Thailand.
Update 2: 8:45am
PTWC now reports, based on a tide gauge in Padang, Indonesia, that a tsunami has been generated. The good news at this point is that the first wave detected was small - 0.35M (1.2 feet) high. It's not yet known if this is going to be the biggest wave produced, so an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami watch remains in effect.