Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) denounced House GOP efforts to advance “selective science” in an interview with The Boston Globe on Monday, in which he targeted a recent Republican proposal to slash millions of dollars in federal funding for social science research and control which projects get funded.
The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act would cut National Science Foundation funding for research in the social, behavioral and economic sciences by roughly 22 percent.
The measure was introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) in March.
“For a committee that is supposed to be advancing science, we seem to be doing an awfully good job of advancing selective science,” said Kennedy, a member of the committee.
The American Anthropological Association, an opponent of the legislation, explains:
If this legislation were enacted, for the first time, Congress would set funding targets for each individual directorate instead of funding NSF as a whole and allowing the agency to allocate funds internally. All directorates would receive an increase EXCEPT SBE [Social, Behavioral, and Economics Directorate], Geosciences, and International and Integrative Activities (IIA). SBE’s budget would be reduced from $267 million it received in fiscal year 2014 to about $200 million in fiscal year 2015.
The proposal would also implement a new set of criteria mandating NSF officials to demonstrate how each grant awarded serves the national interest.
Kennedy and Democratic opponents have accused Republicans of using the proposed grant requirements as a back-door effort to block funding issues they oppose, such as climate change research.
“It’s been frustrating, particularly of late,” Kennedy explained, calling HR 4186 an “opportunistic approach to defunding or attacking certain areas of science that you either don’t agree with or that you don’t want to see what the results might actually be.”
Advocates of science also criticized the measure for prioritizing partisan ideologies over the expertise of the scientific community.
Wendy Naus, executive director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations, called the bill “an attempt to politicize the grant-making process instead of leaving it up to the experts."
“I just don’t feel that most people in this room are well qualified to second-guess NSF’s superb peer review committees,” added John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The Coalition for Natural Science Funding, along with dozens of universities and research institutions, warned that the bill would force “trade-offs that undercut important advances in science” in a letter to Smith and Bucshon in March.
Smith defended the proposal in a statement to the Globe on Monday, citing studying “animal photos in National Geographic” as a waste of taxpayer money.
“It’s the role of Congress to make sure we’re using limited federal funds for the highest priority research,” Smith said.
Language has been adjusted to better explain the breakdown of the proposed budget cuts.