Since posting on the High Quality Research act a few weeks ago, I’ve been following it in the news, have received letters from professional committees (asking us to write letters), and now see that Nathan A. Schachtman, Esq., PC posted the following on May 25, 2013 on his legal blog*:
“The High Quality Research Act” (HQRA), which has not been formally introduced in Congress, continues to draw attention. See“Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right.” Last week, Sarewitz suggests that “the problem” is the hype about the benefits of pure research and the let down that results from the realization that scientific progress is “often halting and incremental,” with much research not “particularly innovative or valuable.” Fair enough, but why is this Congress such an unsophisticated consumer of scientific research in the 21st century? How can it be a surprise that the scientific community engages in the same rent-seeking behaviors as do other segments of our society? Has it escaped Congress’s attention that scientists are subject to enthusiasms and group think, just like, … congressmen?
Nature published an editorial piece suggesting that the HQRA is not much of a threat. Daniel Sarewitz, “Pure hype of pure research helps no one, ” 497 Nature 411 (2013).
Still, Sarewitz believes that the HQRA bill is not particularly threatening to the funding of science:
“In other words, it’s not a very good bill, but neither is it much of a threat. In fact, it’s just the latest skirmish in a long-running battle for political control over publicly funded science — one fought since at least 1947, when President Truman vetoed the first bill to create the NSF because it didn’t include strong enough lines of political accountability.”
This sanguine evaluation misses the effect of the superlatives in the criteria for National Science Foundation funding:
“(1) is in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;
(2) is the finest quality, is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and
(3) is not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.” Continue reading