FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Former NSF Directors and NSB Chairmen Ask House Science Committee to Stop Action on Controversial NSF Legislation and Inquiry

Richard M. Jones
Number 86 - May 9, 2013  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Three former Directors of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and three former Chairmen of the National Science Board (NSB) have written to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee asking them to “forego any further action on the process envisioned in this draft legislation and the request contained in the April 25 letter to the Foundation.”  The bill they refer to is the proposed High Quality Research Act; the letter was to the Acting Director of the National Science Foundation requesting detailed information on five grants awarded by the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences.

This May 8 letter was signed by three former NSF Directors with eighteen years of tenure at the foundation: Neal Lane, Arden Bement, and Rita Colwell.  The three NSB Chairmen also served for eighteen years: Richard Zare, Steven Beering, and Warren Washington.   They caution:

“We believe that this draft bill and the request to the Foundation will have a chilling and detrimental impact on the merit-based review process and the participation of an estimated 60,000 of the world’s most outstanding researchers and educators with relevant scientific and technical expertise who voluntarily assist the Nation by reviewing proposals submitted to the Foundation.”  

The letter later adds:

“We respectfully request that you rescind the April 25, 2013 letter and keep this draft bill from ever coming up for a vote or from being incorporated in other legislation.”

Background related to the discussion draft of the High Quality Research Act and the April 25 letter, and links to both are provided in FYI #80

The full text of this letter to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is below.  Forthcoming FYI #87 will review a similar letter from former NSF assistant directors.

“Dear Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Johnson:

“We are aware of the draft legislation entitled, the High Quality Research Act and your April 25th request to NSF for ‘detailed information on specific research projects’ – including ‘the detailed scientific/technical reviews’ of specific proposals.

“We believe that this draft bill and the request to the Foundation will have a chilling and detrimental impact on the merit-based review process and the participation of an estimated 60,000 of the world’s most outstanding researchers and educators with relevant scientific and technical expertise who voluntarily assist the Nation by reviewing proposals submitted to the Foundation. The Nation’s reliance on the current merit-based system has helped ensure that the precious resources invested in science, technology, and education contribute to America’s world-class research enterprise. We respectfully request that you rescind the April 25, 2013 letter and keep this draft bill from ever coming up for a vote or from being incorporated in other legislation.

“We believe that this draft legislation would replace the current merit-based system used to evaluate research and education proposals with a cumbersome and unrealistic certification process that rather than improving the quality of research would do just the opposite. The history of science and technology has shown that truly basic research often yields breakthroughs – including new technologies, markets and jobs – but that it is impossible to predict which projects (and which fields) will do that. Progress in science requires freedom to explore important questions regardless of where the answers may lead. Over the years, federal funding of basic research, using peer review evaluation, has led to vast improvements in health care, national security, and economic development.

“The NSF, the National Science Board, and the Congress have regularly examined the merit review process and adjusted it, periodically, after widespread consultation with all parties concerned. One of the more recent changes was to elevate the importance of assessing the broader impacts of the proposed project on a par with assessing the scientific and technical merit. We believe this approach serves to strengthen the merit-based decision making process the Foundation uses for individual research projects.

We respectfully ask that the Committee consider our views and forego any further action on the process envisioned in this draft legislation and the request contained in the April 25th letter to the Foundation.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095