The Defenders of Pork are preparing for battle, now that McCain has put pork in the center of the political debate. Joel Achenbach, in an article on the front page of today's Washington Post ("McCain sees Pork where Scientists See Success; Candidate Criticizes Ambitios Bear Study"), reports on a $3 million federal study to collect bear DNA in Montana; the study, which has been the subject of a number of McCain ads ridiculing the expenditure, turns out, according to many scientists quoted, to have been a major success, money well spent.
Now, I actually am a big fan of spending federal money to study bear DNA -- seriously. I spent a number of years, some time ago, as a wildlife biologist, and I am quite willing to believe that this was a useful study that collected important and valuable data on the genetics of the grizzly bear. BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT. The point is: we have a specialized agency (many of them, actually) that hands out money for worthy research projects -- it's called the National Science Foundation, and it funds many, many worthy projects. May it long continue to do so; I've got no problem with Congress increasing the NSF's budget. The problem is that there are thousands of worthy research projects out there, and CONGRESS should not be deciding which ones are worthy of support and which aren't. That's the problem with pork and earmarks and the rest -- not that they don't ever do any good, but that the law-making process cannot possibly decide between the good projects and the bad ones, and will, inevitably, make those decisions on the wrong (i.e on political) grounds.