A scientist tracking tornadoes in Oklahoma in May looks at radar on his smartphone as part of a project that gets funding from the National Science Foundation and other government programs. Rep. Paul Tonko writes that federal funding has had a direct impact on technology such as Doppler radar, GPS and smartphones. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images file photo)
A recent opinion column “Science That Leads” by my colleague, House Science Chairman Lamar Smith, argued that certain kinds of science, especially social and behavioral sciences, are not worth public investment. As an engineer, I take special care when I say: The facts disagree.
In 2014, the world’s foremost doctors and medical experts were working furiously to manage the rapidly growing threat of Ebola. Anthropologists, representing a field of behavioral science, understood the funeral practices in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and were able to act as mediators to intervene in ways that slowed the spread of the illness and saved countless lives. The full economic and public health value of this contribution is impossible to quantify but the lives and resources they saved are very real.