House science committee is digging for dirt in NSF's confidential records of peer review

ScienceInsider reports that aides for the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have been spending the summer digging through records of grant the grant review process that the National Science Foundation usually keeps confidential:

The Republican aides were looking for anything that Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), their boss as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, could use to support his ongoing campaign to demonstrate how the $7 billion research agency is “wasting” taxpayer dollars on frivolous or low-priority projects, particularly in the social sciences. The Democratic staffers wanted to make sure that their boss, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), the panel’s senior Democrat, knew enough about each grant to rebut any criticism that Smith might levy against the research.

The article describes an “escalating” “feud” between NSF’s allies on the committee (all Democrats) and the Republican chair. But, as I noted when the first rumblings of this “feud” started, it’s not nearly so two-sided as that language implies.

It looks like Republicans are bent on making NSF into the next National Endowment for the Arts. After years of ginned-up controversy about specific, often deliberately mis-read, works of art, NEA’s funding in 2012 was less than it was in 1979—and that’s without adjusting for inflation.

Smith doesn’t care a whit for scientific integrity or the quality of the grant review process—he’s looking for any excuse to reduce and eliminate the already stingy Federal support of basic science.

About Jeremy Yoder

Jeremy B. Yoder is an Associate Professor of Biology at California State University Northridge, studying the evolution and coevolution of interacting species, especially mutualists. He is a collaborator with the Joshua Tree Genome Project and the Queer in STEM study of LGBTQ experiences in scientific careers. He has written for the website of Scientific American, the LA Review of Books, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Awl, and Slate.
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