Politics Invading Science?

I was reading this article from ScienceInsider, growing more appalled and frustrated when I came across this statement quoted in the article that is just terribly obviously false:

“In his written statement to ScienceInsider, Smith said only that “there are many grants that no taxpayer would consider in the national interest, or worthy of how their hard-earned dollars should be spent

Now, many who are better versed in writing, science, politics, and any slew of other related areas have demonstrated with better clarity the nuance of this debacle, but I am going to share my own thoughts anyway. I am pretty sure the scientists who wrote the proposals for these grants, the scientists who reviewed them, and the scientists who ultimately approved funding for them felt that they were worthy of being funded by the national coffers. Also, they are probably all tax payers.

Some oversight and review is a good thing in any line of work, and while the world of science has its flaws and mistakes it is probably one of the best at self-policing and still making progress by adapting and incorporating new information (much more then can be said of the national legislature). It is incredibly difficult to put a value of “national interest” on particular research; what appears important now may not be later and what might be deemed of little value may in fact be key to to unlocking important discoveries.

As many of the targeted grants are for international research in what might be broadly termed the social sciences, I would argue that if we as a society and a government of the USA would hold claim to be a global leader in this world filled with diverse peoples and landscapes then we should do our damn best to understand the cultures, landscapes, and their histories. Not to hold dominion over these peoples, but to truly be leaders and provide assistance where desired and necessary in a way that might be successful. Imposing rule and ideas on peoples who are not members of your societal agreement is tyrannical.

Finally, on the whole NSF funded research provides a great bang for your buck. As pointed out by one grantee who received an award of $160,000 for a research project in Nepal,

“The project was a bargain, he adds. The grant covered several months of field work by three senior researchers and their graduate students, he notes, “all for about $50,000 a year. That’s pretty cheap science.””

Assuming 1 or 2 grad students per senior researcher this breaks down to approximately (I rounded) somewhere between $5500 and $8300 per person per fieldwork excursion – to the other side of the world. I would like to see any person in congress do better.

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