I couldn’t help but cringe at Cameron Gerst’s recent rant against the funding of an NSF grant about bicycle dynamics.
Presumably as a non-science major, Cameron has never seen the famous picture of Albert Einstein on a bicycle or might not know that the physics of how a bicycle stays upright is in fact complicated.
As Hubbard et. al. (the recipients of this grant) put it, “Bicycle stability has been studied for more than a century, but only recently have researchers been able to agree upon and publish the stability, dynamic response and characteristics of the simplest bicycle models.” These simplest bicycle models happen to model a bike without a rider. This is why the grant proposes to model a bike with a human on it. From what I can read, Cameron’s op-ed seems most concerned about why this grant was funded.
I’m not an engineer, and I can’t defend the intellectual merits of the grant. But that’s sort of the point: the process of how the NSF decides which grants to fund (which by the way, is super competitive) is a peer review process.
Professors from all over the country submit grant proposals and a panel of their peers rank them. The answer to Cameron’s question, then, is exactly that: a group of mechanical engineers thought that this grant was excellent or outstanding and worthy of funding under the NSF mission to advance the progress of science. At least for me, that’s enough. If you need evidence of an area where this study could have broader impact, go look up the bicycle accident rate on this campus. If you ask me, that’s a little more worthy of outrage.
Here’s my point: I don’t disagree that there’s waste in government spending — look at the way Medicare negotiates drug prices — but you would think that a guy who spends 500 words declaring government spending is “out of balance” might find a little more value in a study about how a bike with a rider stays balanced.