The GOP-controlled House:
Lawmakers held a free-ranging and sometimes bewilderment-inducing hearing Wednesday on the search for extraterrestrial life, gradually working around to the question of whether humans are alone in the universe. At the end of the 90-minute session, that issue remained unresolved. Called “Astrobiology: The Search for Biosignatures in Our Solar System and Beyond,” the House Science Committee’s hearing featured three PhD-credentialed witnesses who are prominent in a scientific field that once was considered speculative.
Rebecca Leber rolls her eyes:
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), House Chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has no tolerance for climate change science but he is willing to talk about aliens. … One day before discussing extraterrestrials, Smith blasted the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for carbon pollution from new power plants for lacking scientific grounds. In a letter to the EPA, Smith wrote that the proposed standards are “based more on partisan politics than sound science.”
Still, George Dvorksy describes the hearing as “refreshingly pro-science,” while Alex Rogers notes that “rarely in this Congress are there moments of childlike wonder, and members seemed to enjoy the break from partisan sniping.” Meanwhile, committee chair Lamar Smith noted that space exploration “attracts bipartisan interest and bipartisan support,” leading Tom McCarthy to dub outer space “the ultimate purple state.” Abby Ohlheiser defended the hearing as “the best thing Congress has done in months”:
Because the House has just seven days of work left before the end of the year, this hearing idea has generated some pretty harsh criticism. But laments about an unproductive Congress finding time to look for aliens of all things are sadly misguided. [The] hearing is a great idea, and it’s doing something remarkable: getting the Republican-led, scientifically challenged committee to seriously discuss an important field of research – and the funding needed to keep it going. So stop making fun of it.
The subject matter of the hearing was so cool, it seems, that the Republican committee members forgot to grill the panelists on why it deserves money in the budget at all. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican, asked the scientists “Let’s assume that we find life? What do we do then? How does that change things with us in the way we view ourselves?” Rep. Bill Posey, also a Republican, noted, “You’ve pretty much indicated life on other planets is inevitable. It’s just a matter of time and funding.” … These are not the most sophisticated questions and statements in the world. But they are exciting ones, and ones that betray a curiosity and engagement with what science does that is not customarily seen in this wing of Congress.