While I intentionally try to avoid the political on this blog, I did make an exception previously when I heard that the Harvard Robobees project had made #1 on Sean Hannity's "List of Government's Most Reckless Spending," because that's downright stupid. I've actually noticed that they've got the transcript from his show about this online. (The video is also available here.) Let's see what they actually say:
And finally, we are here, and No. 1 will shock you. For that, we go to Ainsley Earhardt, who is standing by in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tonight — Ainsley.
AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Sean, No. 1 brings us here to Harvard University. This school got $9.3 million in stimulus money to build flying robotic bees, which they hope will one day help monitor traffic and even pollinate crops. We were in the community today, and this town was buzzing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably isn't going to stimulate the economy in the short term, which is what the stimulus package was supposed to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think Harvard is doing anything that's wrong or improper. And I work with this organization a lot, and they do a lot of great research.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like a project like that, while certainly admirable, and could definitely contribute in some way in the future, would probably be best put on hold for a while.
EARHARDT: Did this$ 9.3 million project create any jobs? Well, according to Recovery.gov's Web site it created 1.66 jobs.
Well, we called Harvard, and they did give us a statement, and we're reading that, in part: "The three percent of stimulus funding provided for research was not only intended to create jobs immediately, it was also intended to stimulate economic growth, which is precisely what science funding does.
Designing and developing miniaturized flying robotic instruments that will prove useful in any number of ways, including surveillance applications on the battlefield and in weather forecasting, is an extremely important project."
So Sean, no one says that this project is not important. Folks here are just wondering how badly it will sting.
Back to you.
HANNITY: And thanks, Ainsley.
Gee, you'd think they'd be able to come up with more damning things to day about the project, given that it was #1 on their list. I'm actually disappointed reading this. The only "shocking" thing about it is how little negative they actually say. It sounds like some interns made up the list, decided robotic bees sounded goofy so they should put it up at #1, and then when they actually did even a little digging, realized they couldn't say all that much bad about it. Even if one chooses to subscribe the usual tropes that the fringe (or not-so-fringe) right wing doesn't understand or care about science and technology that might range from useful to vital for our food supply, and that the only "good research" is weapons research, there are so many obvious potential military applications for such technology that they can't even make that sort of argument against this research project. The only thing they seem to say is, "Well, this was part of the stimulus, how many jobs did it create?" First, I'm not clear that the Expeditions budget directly came from stimulus money -- perhaps someone with better knowledge can clarify that? But even if it did, Harvard's response statement seems quite appropriate.
For a more reasonable take on the project, you could look, well, just about anywhere, including Engadget, Electronics Weekly, Network World, and several others. Heck, even Robot Armageddon had a more reasoned take on the work (and they're worried about, well, the forthcoming robot armageddon).
What's sad, though, is how often Hannity's list -- and the poor thinking behind it -- has been copied and passed around through the web. A little looking around on Google shows it's been repeated probably hundreds of times in various places. Clearly a lot of people have seen it, and probably many aren't inclined to get actual real information on their own. While I haven't heard of any actual negative impacts on the Robobees research group, I think it's best for the community to be vigilant against this sort of ridiculous attack -- because, in the end, it could affect us all.