Feeds

Surprise! Republican bill adds politics to science funding

'Forget peer review, let's get the experts at Congress involved'

High performance access to file storage

The chairman of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Lamar Smith (R-TX), is planning new legislation that would limit the scope of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the biggest research-funding organization in the US, and bring funding decisions under political oversight.

Smith - you might remember him from such failed legislation as SOPA - is touting the High Quality Research Act as a way to avoid unnecessary duplication in the field of science funding and as a way of allowing members of Congress to have an input into funding decisions.

According to a copy of the legislation leaked to the Huffington Post, the bill would require each piece of funding to be signed off as unique, with no overlap with another study, and must only be "in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense."

The scientific community has also expressed strong reservations about another of Smith's proposed changes: that future funding should only be awarded if it is "not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies," since this shows a basic misunderstanding of how scientific experimentation works.

The NSF would be required to draw up a framework over the next year or instituting the same rules on other areas of science funding funded by the federal government, and report back regularly to the Committee on progress.

Smith also told Dr. Cora Marrett, acting head of the NSF, that members of the Committee should have full access to the scientific briefs that are used to decide funding, which at the moment is conducted under anonymous peer review to measure a proposal's scientific credentials and usefulness.

In addition, Smith asked for details of five specific grants that were awarded last year, including a $435,000 study on "Comparative network analysis: Mapping global social interactions", $260,001's worth of analysis into "The International Criminal Court and pursuit of justice," and $152,464 for an examination of "Regulation and accounting transparency in China's dairy industry."

Smith's letter drew an pithy response from the ranking opposition member of the Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). She pointed out that no chairman had ever sought to influence funding decisions and to do so is the very antithesis of the peer-review systems that the NSF uses, which is considered a "gold standard" for other funding systems.

"By making this request," Johnson wrote, "you are sending a chilling message to the entire scientific community that peer review may always be trumped by political review. You also threaten to compromise the anonymity that is crucial to the frank and open exchange of comments and critiques during the review process, and in doing so, further compromise the integrity of the merit review process."

The thought of some of the less-scientifically aware politicians on the Committee making judgments on scientific funding is worrying indeed, considering their record.

For example, Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) is currently on the Committee, a man who described evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang theory as "lies straight from the pit of hell." Former Committee member Todd Akin (R-MO) also seemed under the impression that women could not get pregnant from "legitimate rape".

If Smith's bill is introduced, it may also get short shrift from the White House. President Obama gave an address on Monday at the National Academy of Sciences in which he praised the contribution of scientific research to American history and progress.

"One of the things that I've tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years," Obama said, "is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science – all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review – but in all the sciences, we've got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they're not subject to politics."

Good luck, Barack. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.