NSF Science Must “Directly Benefit the American People”

LamarSmith

It already does, but Representative Lamar Smith thinks that there are many scientists that are schemers out to steal money from the government. In fact, he decided to pick out a few projects that didn’t interest him to use as examples of how NSF just throws money to “useless” research.

Additionally, he would like Congress to get involved in the peer review process, because congress has such great track record of being efficient and solving problems. When we start moving away from the peer review process, and into the “I am judging this research based on my feelings, even though I am a politician and not a scientist” process, problems arise. Scientists work very hard to convey research to the public as well as agencies such as NSF. However, many fields go into such intricate detail that it is necessary to have other people in the field review the scientific project proposed. Many researchers are adding a tiny grain of sand to the astoundingly large world of research. Some research leads to things that we don’t notice like an improved polymer, or a tiny addition to a huge model of the climate, or a small statistical study that opens up new questions about the ways in which we are currently running our society.

Lamar Smith is a climate change critic, a trendy thing in the Republican Party. This goes to show that he is not spending a lot of time delving into the research itself, and attempting to understand it. I am happy that he at least read through some of the NSF proposals, but what he should really spend time doing is reading some of the peer reviewed papers that have come out of research, and the citations of those papers.

8 responses to “NSF Science Must “Directly Benefit the American People”

  1. I can understand Congress wanting to guide (not determine) priorities in general but this specificity is crazy!

    With respect to Congressional
    peer review involvement, I wonder how deep he intends that to be. I know that, in most grant proposals I’m involved in, not even the entire team understands the entire proposal and we’re the scientists. If it goes through [shiver], I predict it results in greater opportunities for politically oriented folks to be grant writers — more overhead for less quality/clarity.

    • It’s the specificity that makes the peer review process so important. You really want people who are experts in the field to be determining what could be viable research. Passing something like this definitely would push for more of an emphasis on persuasive writing over detailed scientific fact.

      • Definitely, the specificity of the reviewers matters. My concern was with the specificity of Congressional funding. It’s one thing to say “do good science” and quite another to say “do good science on gopher control that supports Intelligent Design”. The latter instructs science while the former supports it and allows the scientists to guide the best next step. Honestly, I’d be OK with some Congressional specificity along the lines of “do good science, but make sure some of it covers rodent behavior”

        As for emphasis on persuasive writing, I think that’s there already, to a point. When writing our proposals, we are thinking about, for example, what variant of statistics will the reviewer find most persuasive. We’ll absolutely use the most appropriate method, but, if the reviewers are epidemiologists, we want to describe it in epi-oriented stats terms. If the they’re psychologists, we want psychometric-oriented terms. But, as you say, it would change for the worse, if funding required addressing more politically-motivated requirements.

  2. One of the parts of his proposal that bothers me most is that he doesn’t want to fund research that has “already been done.” Meaning, of course, that replicating research, that hallmark of science will be passe.

    What an ass. Where do they get these twits from?

    • Yeah, the whole “research that has been done” issue could be a way for people like him to stop funding for further research on climate change. After all, people have already investigated it, right?

      Sigh.

      • Taking a trip into imagination, I wonder if the congressman would be opposed to redoing prior research if the prior research is, for example, confirming climate change, or developing new fetal stem cell methods.

  3. What an incredibly good idea! The High Quality Research Act will allow congress to improve how science is done. Maybe we should also invite them to help us create education curricula. I’ve been so impressed with how congress handles their own business that we could certainly use their expertise.

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