More from the “Congress doesn’t know what it’s talking about” desk, this time from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, is an attorney by trade, while Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), shaping herself up to be the chief thorn in his side, is a registered nurse (RN). You might find that information pertinent, considering what Smith’s new bill is all about.
It’s called the High Quality Research Act, which you will find hilarious shortly. It would require the following of scientific projects awarded grants or contracts by the National Science Foundation (NSF):
- that they “advance the national health, prosperity or welfare, and . . . secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science”;
- that they be “of the finest quality . . . ground-breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large”; and
- that they are “not duplicative of other research projects” that receive funding from federal science agencies.
It also requires that the NSF director report to the House and Senate Science Committees on their progress implementing the above rules within a year. That’s why you’ll hear the word “politicization” being used repeatedly in reference to the effects of this legislation. The idea of members of Congress, especially one who rejects evolution, reading a report on the scientific grant process and suggesting improvements is a Daily Show sketch just begging to be written.
There’s also the matter of this bill being duplicative, as Johnson noted in a letter:
. . . NSF’s Broader Impact criterion is the right way to hold the individual grantee accountable. . . . [in] 2010, out of concern that some NSF-funded scientists did not take this responsibility seriously enough, this committee enacted a requirement for NSF to clarify and strengthen the Broader Impacts criterion. (Emphasis hers.)
You can read up on that criterion here. It doesn’t indicate that a grant or contract will be rejected unless it meets Smith’s proposed guidelines; however, it does indicate that the NSF will consider it. That’s the most he can expect from an organization that was founded to produce scientific research. And the Broader Impact criterion, which is less intrusive, had its own fair share of backlash from the scientific community. Don’t expect this to go over much better.
The real concern is that if Smith’s bill passes, it could lead to increased congressional involvement in the NSF’s operations, ultimately making the peer-review process secondary to political considerations. The short-term cost savings wouldn’t be worth it. Taxpayers aren’t the NSF’s priority – the quality and scope of American science is.