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Why the NSF Studies Snail Mating Habits

April 14, 2013

A Lousiana 19 year-old explains this–and other important reasons why we need to reform science education.

The Teenaged “Troublemaker” Fighting For Science


This is SCIENCE FRIDAY; I’m Flora Lichtman. OK, it’s time to feel like an underachiever. What were you doing when you were 19? Like me, you probably weren’t, oh, appearing on national talk shows, debating the value of science education or calling up Nobel Prize winners and asking them to sign your petition.

Well lucky for us, some teenagers are busier than others. My next guest is one of them. Zack Kopplin is an undergraduate at Rice University and an activist for the cause of science education. He joins us from KUHF in Houston. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

ZACHARY KOPPLIN: Thanks for having me on, Flora, it’s great to be here.

LICHTMAN: Thanks for joining us. So you’re at Rice right now. What year are you, and what are you studying?

KOPPLIN: I’m a sophomore history major, actually.

LICHTMAN: And I think I read that you’re taking next year off.

KOPPLIN: Yeah, I’m going to take next year off because I’m ready to start an organization to launch the next phase of our movement for science.

LICHTMAN: Tell me about that.

ZACHARY KOPPLIN: So we’re ready – the big thing now is America has a science problem. We’re cutting science funding. We’ve cut $50 billion from science over the next five years. We have denialist legislation like the Louisiana Science Education Act that I’ve been fighting in Louisiana. Tennessee has a copycat bill, and there’s bills introduced all around the country based on Louisiana’s law.

KOPPLIN: And so there’s these two problems that we need to take on to change how science is done in America. And so we’re taking inspiration from Neil Armstrong’s famous words when he first stepped foot on the moon, and we’re calling for a second giant leap for humankind.

LICHTMAN: How do you intend to make that leap?

KOPPLIN: So we need to reverse the budget sequester that cut $50 billion, and we also, beyond that, we need to start funding a lot more science. I want to see $1 trillion over the next 10 years. And while that sounds like a lot of money, it’s actually – first, there’s a huge return on investment whenever we fund science. So it’s actually, in the (unintelligible) budget deficit, it actually makes sense to spend more money on science because it’ll pay itself off.

KOPPLIN: And then make sure that all across the country, students are learning about evolution, learning about climate change, learning about vaccines, learning about the science they need to know so when they go into the job market, they’ll actually go and do good evidence-based science and help our country.

LICHTMAN: If you have a question for Zack Kopplin, give us a call, 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. So I want to play a clip. It’s a small part of your appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” And the first person we hear talking is economist Stephen Moore, and he’s talking about funding for science. And then you answer him. Here it is.


STEPHEN MOORE: You think things like when the National Science Foundation spends money on snail mating habits, that’s a good use of taxpayer dollars, right?

KOPPLIN: We’ve been over this. You’re not a scientist….  Continued here.

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