Political Science is not Alone [NSF]

The following are a series of articles on the potential changes to how NSF projects are reviewed and funded. They are in chronological order.

The first is the draft of the High Quality Research Act. It takes some time before that name shows up in an article.

High Quality Research Research Act: [Discussion Draft]
April 18, 2013

NSF Peer Review Under Scrutiny by House Science Panel
Jeffrey Mervis | ScienceInsider
April 18, 2013

“The peer-review process is the backbone of our basic research enterprise, and we’ve done very well with it,” he [Holdren] told Representative Randy Weber (R-TX). “That doesn’t say it never makes a mistake. But I think it’s better than any alternative, including me or you trying to determine what is good basic research in fields not our own.”

Holdren didn’t flinch when asked specifically by Representative Bill Posey (R-FL) whether he agreed that Coburn’s two criteria—that a political science grant must relate to economic or national security interests—”were a good and proper filter” to apply to all proposals. “I respectfully disagree,” Holdren replied. “I think that it is too narrowly drawn.”

Posey then asked Holdren to suggest other criteria that should be applied. The question gave Holdren a chance to deliver his real take-home message. “I think it’s a dangerous thing for Congress, or anybody else, to be trying to specify in detail what types of fundamental research NSF should be funding,” he told Posey.

Political Science is not alone
Henry Farrell | The Monkey Cage blog
April 26, 2013
The title to this entry is because earlier this year, political science research was singled out as not worthy of funding by NSF. The threat has expanded to the rest of the scientific community, although social sciences seem the most vulnerable. See previous PSC-Info blog entry for more.

U.S. Lawmaker Proposes New Criteria for Choosing NSF Grants
Jeffrey Mervis | ScienceInsider
April 28, 2013

Quotes by Eddie Bernice Johnson, ranking Democrat on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology:

“In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF,” Johnson wrote in a letter obtained by ScienceInsider. “I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value.”

In her letter, Johnson warns Smith that “the moment you compromise both the merit review process and the basic research mission of NSF is the moment you undo everything that has enabled NSF to contribute so profoundly to our national health, prosperity, and welfare.” She asks him to “withdraw” his letter and offers to work with him “to identify a less destructive, but more effective, effort” to make sure NSF is meeting that mission.

Links to Letters: via @kjhealy on Twitter
Lamar Smith to Cora Marrett
Eddie Bernice Johnson to Lamar Smith and Cora Marrett

Note that one of the NSF studies that Lamar Smith did not think warranted funding was titled “The International Criminal Court and the Pursuit of Justice” which was pretty close to the title of PSC’s April 29th brownbag “On the Use of Demographic Evidence at International War Crime Tribunals”

House chair wants congressional guidelines to replace peer review for federal science research
Tim Carmody | The Verge
April 29, 2013

A Congressman’s Own Peer Review
Doug Lederman | Inside Higher Education
April 29, 2013

Eddie Bernice Johnson vs Lamar Smith and the NSF
John Sides | Monkey Cage blog
April 29, 2013

Lamar Smith, GOP Push Politicization of Scientific Research
Ryan Grim | Huffington Post
April 29, 2013
This is one of the few articles the “not duplicative” requirement:

“The requirements laid out in the bill are problematic on several levels. The basic scientific method itself is by its nature duplicative, and is often carried out purely for investigative purposes.”

Obama Promises to Protect Peer Review in Salute to NAS
David Malakoff | ScienceInsider
April 29, 2013
Obama was speaking at the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, but touched on the issues associated with NSF funding:

In addition to touting his administration’s support for research, Obama took an oblique swipe at political adversaries in Congress who want to require the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other funding agencies to adopt new grant funding criteria.

“[W]e’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars,” Obama said. “And I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process.”

Obama also gave a shout-out to the social sciences, which have borne the brunt of recent congressional complaints. “[O]ne of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last 4 years and will continue to do over the next 4 years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process,” he said. “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, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences.”

The Republican War on Social Science
Dave Weigel | Slate
May 1, 2013
Great introduction to a mostly sobering piece on the lack of response by Democrats to Republican attacks on science, data, information.

The first time anyone outside of Florida’s Space Coast heard of Rep. Bill Posey, he was talking about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. It was March 2009. Posey had been in office for two months, and he was the first to propose a bill requiring presidential nominees to hand over “documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility.” He was Internet-famous overnight. Stephen Colbert was asking him to prove that he, Posey, wasn’t part alligator. “There is no reason to say that I’m the illegitimate grandson of an alligator,” said the congressman.

Posey’s been re-elected twice since then, and on April 17, he got the chance to stare down the president’s science czar, John Holdren. Posey and fellow Republicans on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee wanted Holdren to explain why the National Science Foundation was wasting so much money from an asked-for budget of $7.6 billion.

Lamar Smith: Science Peer Review Process Would ‘Improve’ With Political Oversight
Michael McAuliff | Huffington Post
April 30, 2013
It is all in the first sentence:

“The chairman of the House Science Committee on Tuesday defended his controversial draft legislation that would subject the National Science Foundation’s peer review process to politics as necessary to “improve” science.”

Lamar Smith, [R, TX] says that the bill is bipartisan:
“The draft legislation was the result of bipartisan discussions about how NSF grants should be prioritized. It was circulated to Committee Democratic staff, the NSF and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. This was a first step in what we hoped would be a bipartisan initiative to improve accountability of NSF grants.”

Dear Congress: Why are you so Anti-Science?
Rebecca Boyle | Popular Science
May 2, 2013
This is a really strong piece, covering the long-term implications of changing the way science is reviewed and funded. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Of the many and varied things going wrong in Washington today, the frontal assault on science is one of the most alarming. Sequestration will be a blip compared to the setback that could result if Congress makes science–the peer-reviewed, community-checked, fact-based realm of science–all about politics.

The chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ science committee is floating a bill that would eliminate peer review at the National Science Foundation, essentially replacing it with a Congressional stamp of approval. President Obama has signaled he opposes this, and the bill’s future is unclear right now. But Republican lawmakers are nothing if not tenacious.

Science has been suffocating in a toxic political atmosphere for years, with national leaders outwardly denying climate change is happening, celebrities pushing dangerous anti-vaccine (and anti-science) views on a frightened and malleable public, and conservatives angling to teach creationism using taxpayer dollars. The proposed 2014 federal budget doesn’t help, with major cuts in planetary research and high-energy physics just two of the problems. But this latest salvo could be one of the most damaging anti-science campaigns yet.

That’s because on its face, it sounds innocuous. Wise, even. It’s called the “High Quality Research Act.”

Is Any Science Safe?
Kenneth Prewitt | Science
May 3, 2013
Prewitt argues against the micromanaging of NSF grants on several grounds. He provides excellent background for each point he makes:

“First, it favors research that promises near-term benefits, overlooking the fact that there is knowledge useful under today’s conditions and knowledge that becomes useful when conditions change.”

“Science is an interconnected enterprise. Research on schoolyard bullies can unexpectedly lead to theory that explains suicide bombers. Two U.S. political scientists, Herbert Simon and Elinor Ostrom, received Nobel Prizes for theoretical work on government decisionmaking under uncertainty. Their theories are broadly applicable, including in explanations of failed states—often home to terrorist cells.”

“Members of Congress who believe that the executive branch should not try to pick winners and losers in the market economy should certainly realize that the legislative branch should not try to pick winners and losers in science.”

Congressional debate over science funding draws fire from critics
Wynne Perry | Fox News
May 3, 2013
This piece is littered with quotes from scientists who are against the rule changes. It does include an argument for Constitutional support for Congressional oversight:

Proponents of more oversight do have a strong argument, Cook-Deegan said, because the U.S. Constitution gives Congress oversight over executive branch agencies, including the NSF. (Congress, as part of the federal budget, approves the NSFs budget.)

Both Smith and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who proposed the criteria for political science studies, have questioned the merits of individual, NSF-funded studies. Their lists have included studies on the evolving depiction of animals in the magazine National Geographic; on attitudes toward majority rule and minority rights focusing on the Senate filibuster; and on the International Criminal Court and the African Union Commissions interpretation of international justice and human rights.

These lists are the latest in a well-established history of singling out individual research projects for criticism. Beginning in March 1975, Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire began issuing Golden Fleece Awards, highlighting what he considered wasteful government spending. His research picks included studies to determine why people fall in love, and under what conditions people, monkeys and rats bite and clench their jaws, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that social science research, including political science, has been a particular target for Republican lawmakers. Historically, conservatives have perceived social science as a tool to advance the liberal agenda, Cook-Deegan said.

This perception has created political conflict over research in a number of topics, including gun violence, he said. Gun violence research, stymied for many years by congressional decree, received a boost from President Barack Obama earlier this year as part of his response to the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

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