Saturday, May 4, 2013

Peer Reviewed Political Reporting

This is strange.  +Lamar Smith has received a lot of free press in the last few weeks for his treatment of the NSF grant process and some NSF funded projects.  The latest round of tirades against Smith, appears to be based on, well, nothing.  Nathaniel Downs at[1] claims of Smith's latest draft bill:
The bill says that any research done using federal funds (which is the majority of research done in the United States) must have its results and finding approved by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives. If the findings are not agreed to, the research is taken from the researchers and disposed of by Congress as it sees fit.
Which would be just awful, if the bill actually said anything remotely like that, which it doesn't.  The bill text can be found at a Huffington Post link[2].  I haven't been able to find a link to it at yet.  I suspect that's because the bill is still in its draft form and hasn't been introduced to Congress yet.  Here's the copy of the bill referred to above so you can read it yourself.

I'll give you the bill is a bit baffling as it calls for things that are basically already done.  It calls for the NSF to publicly announce several aspects of any project that they are considering funding.  The announcement does have to contain text that states how the project is beneficial to the American people, the defense of the nation and so on.  That's it though, they just have to make an announcement.  If they fail to make the announcement, or aren't original enough to define how the research provides a benefit, (virtually all research provides some benefit),  then the funds for the project are not to be awarded and are to be given to other projects.  The funds for projects that aren't awarded are already given to other projects under the current process.  In fact, that's almost the definition of the grant funding process.  Some lose, Others win.  The winners take the money.  The real question to me is what Smith thinks this bill actually accomplishes.  The NSF also already requires grant proposals to contain a section stating the research's impact on society at large.

There's also been a bit of a fuss in the media that the bill calls for the NSF to rather promptly state how they will implement the bill.  The implementation section is a common feature of just about every bill.  Passing a law without a way to measure how it has been implemented or for that matter undertaking any project with a way to measure its implementation is rather ineffective.

From what I hear, there are plenty of ways in which Smith is proposing questionable treatment of scientific funding.  Perhaps it would be better to focus on those.  I have heard from +Pamela Wang  that there's a more recent version of the bill available and hope to hear more about it soon.

1.  addictinginfo article

2.  Bill text

3.  Smith's letter to the NSF director inquiring about five specific funded projects

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