May 8, 2013
The High Quality Research Act… What A Crock!
I just read one of the scariest articles I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Nope, it wasn’t written by Richard Preston or even Stephen King. It is a Huffington Post article about a new bill being proposed to the House of Representatives Science Committee. This bill hasn’t been introduced yet, but the author is flying it on the Hill’s flag post to see who salutes.
The author of this bill is from Texas, I am ashamed to say, and his idea is that scientific research which receives grant money from the National Science Foundation (NSF) should have to pass political inspection before it is funded. Government oversight, if you will, of all scientific research to ensure it “is in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science.” So, there goes dinosaurs, global warming, space exploration and a whole host of other research.
The bill also requires the director of the NSF to publicly certify in writing that each and every grant is “”the finest quality, is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and … is not duplicative of other research project being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.”
Are ya’ll seeing problems yet? Science is, by its nature, duplicative. You can’t even call it a “result” until someone else can pick up the same materials and get the same results. That’s the basis of the scientific method. It also requires the NSF to collaborate with other federal science agencies, bogging down the process and keeping valuable research money from reaching the scientists in a timely manner.
One final comment on problems in this bill; it doesn’t stop with the NSF. In fact, it demands that within a year of enactment, the NSF provide recommendations on how these same chokeholds can be placed on other Federal Science agencies.
Science and politics have always been uneasy bedfellows, just ask Oppenheimer and Einstein. There is always a debate about ethics and application of the research. But you can’t have true innovation without academic and scientific freedom. If every idea has to be justified to and vetted by non-scientists who, in all honesty, probably won’t understand it in the first place, how can true innovation take place?
To add insult to injury, this particular politico wrote a letter to the NSF demanding that it “provide supporting materials to justify research that its panels of independent scientists have approved.” He wants to see the technical reviews that the independent board of scientists wrote to each other on the “questionable” research so that he can decide if it is worthy of the money already awarded. He seems particularly taken with social science projects as being unworthy.
Lucky for all of us, some other denizens of Capital Hill are already fighting back. One in particular is also from Texas and she’s fighting mad. As she said in a letter to the author of the letter and bill, “This is the first step on a path that would destroy the merit-based review process at NSF and intrudes political pressure into what is widely regarded as the most effective and creative process for awarding research funds in the world.[…]Interventions in grant awards by political figures with agenda, biases, and no expertise is the antithesis of the peer review processes. By making this request, you are sending a chilling message to the scientific community that peer review will always be trumped by political review.”
While I agree there needs to be oversight on where tax dollars are being spent, having that oversight performed by politicians with political, moral, religious and monetary biases is not my idea of science.
Image Credit: VLADGRIN / Shutterstock