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Injecting Partisan Politics into Scientific Peer Review

By Keith Cowing
April 30, 2013
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Letter from Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairmain, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to NSF Director Cora Marrett
“During the course of the hearing, I asked Dr. Holdren about taxpayer funding for social, behavioral and political science studies at the National Science Foundation (NSF), and how we can better prioritize research spending. During that discussion, Dr. Holdren said that there is “room for improvement” in how NSF prioritizes research initiatives based on the potential value to the national interest. Based on my review of NSF-funded studies, I have concerns regarding some grants approved by the Foundation and how closely they adhere to NSF’s “intellectual merit” guideline. To better understand how NSF makes decisions to approve and fund grants, it would be helpful to obtain detailed information on specific research projects awarded NSF grants.”
Letter from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ranking Member, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to. Rep. Lamar Smith
“Your letter of April 25 to the Acting Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Cora Marrett, has provoked me to write to you. At our hearing on April 17, both Dr. Marrett and the Chairman of the National Science Board (NSB), Dr. Dan Arvizu, offered to engage with the Committee in a meaningful discussion of the mission of NSF and how the agency’s merit review process can best be constructed to support that mission. Rather than entering into that dialogue, your letter marks the beginning of an investigative effort, the implications of which are profound. 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 viewed as the most effective and creative process for awarding research funds in the world. … I cannot stand by silently as you continue this political intrusion into one of our Nation’s and indeed, one of the world’s most important scientific organizations. I ask that you withdraw your letter to Dr. Marrett. I stand ready to work with you to identify a less destructive, but more effective, effort to hold NSF accountable to the requirements laid out in law.”
Congress tries to reset science grants, wants every one to be “groundbreaking”, Ars Technica
“The other two requirements, however, completely misunderstand both basic research and the role of the National Science Foundation. Basic research is largely about exploring the unknown; by definition, it’s almost impossible to tell which areas of research will end up being groundbreaking or have commercial applications. And the NSF is specifically tasked with funding basic research and science education.”
U.S. Lawmaker Proposes New Criteria for Choosing NSF Grants, Science Insider
“The new chair of the House of Representatives science committee has drafted a bill that, in effect, would replace peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress. For good measure, it would also set in motion a process to determine whether the same criteria should be adopted by every other federal science agency.”
Discussion Draft (via ScienceInsider)
Keith’s note: Rest assured, Rep. Smith and his staff will soon start to poke around NASA funding decisions as well looking for things that they have ideological objections to.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.