Political Oversight

The story begins as follows:

WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House science committee are making an unprecedented move to require oversight of the scientific research process, pushing a bill that would in effect politicize decisions made by the National Science Foundation, according to a draft of the legislation acquired by The Huffington Post. As part of the same effort, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, sent a letter to the NSF Thursday demanding that it provide supporting materials to justify research that its panels of independent scientists have approved.

The bill, titled the High Quality Research Act and authored by Smith, would require the director of the NSF to certify in writing that every grant handed out by the federal agency is for work that is “the finest quality, is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and … is not duplicative of other research project being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.” The bill has not been officially introduced, but HuffPost acquired a draft copy that Smith circulated among colleagues.

If you are having a problem getting your head around this it’s because it’s borderline crazy. Led by the Republicans — you know, the same folks who insist on teaching creationism as a science, who deny that DNA has anything to do with heredity, and who also think that climate change is a fiction — are going to insist that qualified scientists run their work past the expert eye of one or more of their members to make certain it warrants funding for research. That is to say, men and women who have spent 20+ years in school learning everything they can about their fields of expertise will now (if this bill becomes law) have to get approval from a group of ignorant no-minds whose only qualification is that they fooled a sufficient number of gullible voters into electing them to public office. As Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas who sits on the committee, noted in his response to Smith,

Interventions in grant awards by political figures with agenda, biases, and no expertise is the antithesis of the peer review processes. . . . By making this request, you are sending a chilling message to the scientific community that peer review will always be trumped by political review. . . . Your letter marks the beginning of an investigative effort, the implications of which are profound. . . This is the first step on a path that would destroy the merit-based review process at NSF and intrudes political pressure into what is widely regarded as the most effective and creative process for awarding research funds in the world.

This bill is merely in the early stages and one can only hope that it will be resoundingly defeated. But with this group of clowns presently in Congress one can never know for sure. Just when you think the country has sunk as low as it can possibly get it finds a deeper level of ignominy. I swear it is becoming an embarrassment to admit one is a citizen of this country. And don’t get me started on how far from the ideals set forth by the founders this group has managed to move us, from a Republic that nurtures public virtue to a country run by self-important, narrow-minded, professional politicians funded by wealthy special interests. One can only wonder what could possibly be next on the Republican agenda — aside from the Jim Crow laws they are pushing in various states, dismantling health care legislation, and their determination to rid the country of those pesky regulatory agencies that promote such things as good health.


22 thoughts on “Political Oversight

  1. ok, i pulled an all nighter painting details on the floor, so i am not surprised that this part gave me a big chuckle: ” …have to get approval from a group of ignorant no-minds whose only qualification is that they fooled a sufficient number of gullible voters into electing them to public office. ” i wish that i knew the inflections of your voice so that the total effect of your — dismay? frustrations? disgust? – could burn through.

    the scientific world should be honored that you have no qualms about speaking up for their profession, their integrity, and their right to be respected on their own merits and not have to answer to “a group of ignorant no-minds whose only qualification is that they fooled a sufficient number of gullible voters into electing them to public office. ”

    thank you for speaking up; may your example light the way for others to do the same.


  2. I can only wonder what it would be like if the current Republican Party controlled the White House and the Senate. Democrats are not very good either, but at least they don’t despise science.

    • I must say I don’t like the idea of politicians on either side of the aisle making the final determinations about what constitutes science.


      • Speaking from experience in NC where they do control the state senate, house and governor’s office, it has been a parade of inanity – all of the things Hugh mentions above. Esquire Magazine said NC is trying to become like Mississippi. Many science journals have noted some of the most ludicrous bills, many that have become law in NC. It is truly mind boggling – this from an independent voter. Hugh, good post, BTG

  3. As a past paid columnists, I was trained and chided (Both) to keep personal feelings out of my work. It was good to write about things I cared about, but it had to be done in a professional, objective manner.


    I believe that if we feel strongly about something, then we need to show our passion for the subject, and doing so by cynical, “Over the top” wording is a great way to do it. (I’ve been known to do it once or twice in my over 300 blogs!). The point is that “Ignorant, no minds” and “gullible voters” tells a much better story, and paints a much clearer picture in the readers mind than dry, objective prattle.

    Z is right, good job, and keep it up

    • hey
      you are so right about journalists being able to break the rules when a current event burns passionately – which is what happened last week in nicaragua when tim rogers reported about the out-of-control wildfires. i read the article and i thought, ‘wow. that person surely lives there, and these fires must be in his backyard.’ then i saw the name of the writer and i said, ‘good for you, tim!


      yes, it is our duty to write from the heart and transplant that passion to others.

  4. Right! Because it just so wrong that the people handing out the largesse to these grant seekers have some say in what the money is being handed out for.

      • It’s up to those who want the money to beg in a manner that those holding the cash will understand and endorse. It all comes down to what does America get for the cash and politicians can understand that if it’s explained well – and, if it can’t be explained, there’s probably no benefit in the first place as “pure science” is largely a waste of tax dollars.

        Don’t get me wrong. I like “pure science” research. I just think that tax-dollars need to be spent on things with more chance of a near-to-mid application, e.g., battery tech, solar panel efficiency, and/or biological pollution scrapers.

      • It’s impossible to predict when “pure research” will turn up something of extraordinary practical value.


      • The scientist Michael Polanyi once said that the majority of papers at a scientific or mathematical conference cannot be understood by more than a handful of those experts present. We have come that far with specialization. What hope is there that a narrow, professional politician will understand even the clearest of proposals submitted to the NSF?

      • There’s a huge difference between a scientific paper and a grant request or, at least, there should be if you’re hoping to get funding even today. This potential bill doesn’t even change that. It just requires that the NSF present explanations for their funding choices, presumably in plain language and detailing the potential / expected benefits of the research.

  5. Jonolan is correct in theory, but naive at best if he thinks congressional oversight will improve the process. Proof? 97% of scientists believe and support the negative effects of global warming. But congress does not. So further studies in this area, although badly needed, would be overturned under Jonolan’s process, I believe.

    This bill is nothing but a means to control the research being done, to politicize the outcomes.

    • Yeah. The first thing Lamar Smith wanted to do when he took over that committee was “study” the question of climate change further. Like we don’t already know how serious the problem is!

      • I sent you and Barney both the Mercer Investment Consulting study sponsored by the largest 14 global pension trusts, including CALPERS, on the cost of climate change. I hoping to use this as an appeal to fossil-fuel funded legislators that we are talking real money here and must act now. It is a candid assessment of climate change that will have a huge impact on our country and planet. Barney’s points are well taken, with the war on science being waged by the GOP, this oversight would be devastating. As we know Obama is far from perfect, but the best thing about the GOP not controlling the White House is their dinosaur stance on global warming would manifest into horrible bills and laws which we are seeing in NC. Take care, BTG

  6. I agree that the US is on the way down as a culture and as a civilization. The question is how far down will we go and what does the bottom look like?

    • We are becoming increasingly a third-world country with a disappearing middle class. The oligarchy that runs the country gets its marching orders from the wealthy and ignores the concerns of the citizens as a whole.


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