ONTD Political

GOP Pushes Politicization Of Scientific Research

5:56 pm - 04/29/2013

Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is calling for oversight of the National Science Foundation. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Washington -- Republicans on the House science committee are making an unprecedented move to require oversight of the scientific research process, pushing a bill that would in effect politicize decisions made by the National Science Foundation, according to a draft of the legislation acquired by The Huffington Post. As part of the same effort, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, sent a letter to the NSF Thursday demanding that it provide supporting materials to justify research that its panels of independent scientists have approved.

The bill, titled the High Quality Research Act and authored by Smith, would require the director of the NSF to certify in writing that every grant handed out by the federal agency is for work that 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." The bill has not been officially introduced, but HuffPost acquired a draft copy that Smith circulated among colleagues.

The measure would also require federal officials to report back to Congress on how the NSF was implementing the new regulations. Additionally, the bill solicits recommendations for how to place similar restrictions on other federal science agencies.

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.

But Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), the top Democrat on the committee, found the proposal especially alarming after Smith demanded in his letter that the NSF submit to the committee the technical peer review discussions conducted among NSF scientists who decide on grant awards.

"Members of the Committee would benefit from access to the scientific/technical reviews," Smith wrote in his letter last week to acting NSF Director Cora Marrett. Smith highlighted a number of social science studies that he had "concerns" about, including a study called "Picturing Animals in National Geographic, 1888 - 2008," and "The International Criminal Court and the Pursuit of Justice."

Johnson fired back Friday with a letter to Smith saying that his request -- coupled with the legislation -- was a dangerous politicization of one of the most successful scientific research promoters in history.

"Your letter marks the beginning of an investigative effort, the implications of which are profound," Johnson wrote. "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."

She goes on to argue that politicians have no business considering themselves on par with scientists when it comes to evaluating scientific merit, noting that no previous chairman of the committee has ever put himself forward as an expert in science.

"Interventions in grant awards by political figures with agenda, biases, and no expertise is the antithesis of the peer review processes," Johnson continued. "By making this request, you are sending a chilling message to the scientific community that peer review will always be trumped by political review."

Smith said in a statement to The Huffington Post that the NSF projects for which he has requested more information do not meet the foundation's standards.

“The NSF has great potential to promote American innovation and expand our economy," Smith said. "When the NSF only has enough money to fund one in seven research proposals, they must ensure that each one is of the highest quality. The proposals about which I have requested further information do not seem to meet the high standards of most NSF-funded projects. Congress has a responsibility to review questionable research paid for by hard-working American taxpayers. If academic or other institutions want to conduct such research on these kinds of subjects they can pay for them with their own private funds. Public funds should be used to benefit the American people."

Smith listed five NSF projects about which he has requested further information.

1. Award Abstract #1247824: “Picturing Animals in National Geographic, 1888-2008,” March 15, 2013, ($227,437);

2. Award Abstract #1230911: “Comparative Histories of Scientific Conservation: Nature, Science, and Society in Patagonian and Amazonian South America,” September 1, 2012 ($195,761);

3. Award Abstract #1230365: “The International Criminal Court and the Pursuit of Justice,” August 15, 2012 ($260,001);

4. Award Abstract #1226483, “Comparative Network Analysis: Mapping Global Social Interactions,” August 15, 2012, ($435,000); and

5. Award Abstract #1157551: “Regulating Accountability and Transparency in China’s Dairy Industry,” June 1, 2012 ($152,464).

Smith, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee last session, led the House legislative effort behind its version of SOPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act. That effort became highly controversial as opponents saw it as an attempt to inject government into an area where it could stifle innovation. It was ultimately dropped and the legislation rejected.

On Monday, President Obama will speak at the National Academy of Sciences to mark its 150th anniversary.

CORRECTION: The original article misstated the name of the Stop Online Piracy Act as the "Stop Online Privacy Act." It has been corrected.

By Michael McAuliff and Ryan Grim. Posted: 04/29/2013 10:29 am EDT. Updated: 04/29/2013 7:18 pm EDT.


Also read: President Obama has promised to protect science research from partisan politics.
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vulturoso 30th-Apr-2013 01:16 am (UTC)
That's not how science works.
layweed 30th-Apr-2013 01:19 am (UTC)
I can't get past that photo of the toolbag Lamar Smith being the "Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee". Like, literally, I can't take that shit seriously enough to even read the rest of the article.
nesmith 30th-Apr-2013 02:34 am (UTC)
It's as much of a total nonsensical pile of crap as Michele Bachmann being on the Intelligence Committee.
underlankers 30th-Apr-2013 01:22 am (UTC)
Much as I loathe the GOP's maltreatment of the scientific principle and anything closer to 2013 than 33 AD, I consider Obama's statement disinenguous at best:


^He had a great heaping deal to do with this so anyone who considers his word on avoiding politicization of science trustworthy must also believe there were no American tanks in Baghdad and that North Korea is best Korea.
sesmo 30th-Apr-2013 06:07 am (UTC)
Did you post the wrong link? Because that link has zero to do with the subject.
intrikate88 30th-Apr-2013 01:53 am (UTC)
As I read on, I felt more and more like I was falling down a rabbit hole of confusion, with only the certainty that absolutely no scientists were involved in the drafting of this legislation to hold onto.
carmy_w 30th-Apr-2013 02:07 pm (UTC)
Not the rabbit hole; more like the looking glass, where every name means the exact opposite of what one thinks it should mean.

Hence, the "High Quality Research Act," which is going to lower quality, and turn research into a propaganda tool, with the "findings" of the research always supporting what the powers that be say the "correct" theory should be.
emofordino 30th-Apr-2013 02:01 am (UTC)
so republicans hate big government and regulations and oversight unless it's for something they don't like, such as abortion, marriage equality, and controlling scientific research funding so that only studies they believe are worthy get the resources to do their research? awesome. especially considering how pro-science many republicans are known to be. :/
angelofdeath275 30th-Apr-2013 02:14 am (UTC)
i was just about to say this.
checkerdandy 30th-Apr-2013 02:38 am (UTC)
Those grants are a drop in the bucket, and I, for one, do not begrudge the penny I contributed. I'd be happy if we invested more of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars on science.
romp 30th-Apr-2013 03:56 am (UTC)
Have they been listening to Harper? Not gagging scientists but headed in that direction.
spiritoftherain 30th-Apr-2013 07:49 am (UTC)
No, Harper's been listening to them. Fucker is a lapdog for the right wingers in the States.
grace_om 30th-Apr-2013 04:18 am (UTC)
Stinks of Lysenkoism. Not in exact detail, but in the concept of trying to force science into political ideology. I don't think Russian biology has really recovered to this day.
hinoema 30th-Apr-2013 04:43 am (UTC)
The only adequate response by scientists to this is "What? No. Fuck off, we're trying to work here."
coervus 30th-Apr-2013 07:27 pm (UTC)
LOL pretty much.
ohmiya_sg 30th-Apr-2013 05:56 am (UTC)
Every single one of those studies is something international. :/
the_physicist 30th-Apr-2013 08:36 am (UTC)
i can't seem ot get style = mine to work on this pc and ontd_p screws up badly for me as a layout. so um, sorry that this is written blind without being being able to read what i'm writing before sending it at all. but yeah, this is essentially how science works anyway. most funding does get given away politically because the bodies to give away tax payer money to scientific research were set up by the government. the issue is that a lot of people who set up how funding is awarded don't understand science though, even if it is ultimately scientists who give away the funding, that doesn't help when they have to stick to a system that 'gets it wrong'. most countries do this, because, like i said, it's the government giving out the funding mostly, so the government set up the rules under which it's given out.

the only way to change this is probably to only elect scientists and employ scientists only in the civil service.

edit: disclaimer, i get my funding from tax payer money and i have no accountability. i am free to do with that money what i want without any justifications. but this is extremely rare and it's not a lot of funding. large grants always come with needing to fit into a certain system that was set up not by scientists, but by those who think science is all about giving money towards reaching a certain 'invention' and that you will then get that invention at the end of it all. this leads to important discoveries not being made, because discoveries are often made by accident. my field of physics was discovered by accident.

Edited at 2013-04-30 08:47 am (UTC)
roseofjuly 2nd-May-2013 04:01 am (UTC)
What fellowship do you have that you have no accountability? I have an NSF and although they don't tell us what to do with the money, they do select students who are already disposed to doing things they feel are important, and they select you on the basis of your contributions in the past. I also have to submit a yearly tenure report telling them what I did with the money.

But yeah, I totally agree with you. My research is based upon basic psychological theories that often involve animal models and no direct link to health or education. I'm a translational researcher; my job is to figure out how to use it.
mastadge 30th-Apr-2013 12:14 pm (UTC)
Is this the same House Science, Space and Technology Committee whose member Paul Broun (R-GA) last year declared that "evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell"?

Can we get these assholes politicians away from science already please?

EDIT to add a missing word.

Edited at 2013-04-30 12:15 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - Anonymous
wrestlingdog 30th-Apr-2013 02:31 pm (UTC)
darknessdivine 30th-Apr-2013 03:39 pm (UTC)
Aren't these the same people who wonder why we can't compete globally?
crossfire 30th-Apr-2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
GOP Pushes Further Politicization Of Scientific Research

Fixed. Because honestly, government research grants are already politicized.
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