Congressional inquiry into social science grants rebuked by NSF

From the ASLO Aquatic Science Policy Report

In the continuing assault on social science funding at NSF, the chair of the House Science Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) requested on April 25 that NSF provide “access to the scientific/technical reviews and the Program Officers Review Analysis” of five projects awarded funding through the social sciences directorate of the agency. The request regarding these “studies of interest” drew immediate response from Smith’s democratic counterpart on the committee, ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson, also from Texas. In her response, Johnson notes that the system of peer review at NSF has been considered “the gold standard for how scientific proposals should be judged and funded” for decades. Johnson cautioned that Smith is venturing into new territory as chair by going after specific grants: “Interventions in grant awards by political figures with agendas, biases, and no expertise is the antithesis of the peer review processes. By making this request, you are sending a chilling message to the entire scientific community that peer review may always be trumped by political review.”

On April 29, President Obama vowed to uphold the peer review system in an address to the National Academy of Sciences. “I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process. That’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”

Obama’s remarks foreshadowed the eventual response to Smith from NSF, which was essentially “no.” On May 15, the agency responded to Smith saying they would not release the requested material in order to maintain the confidentiality of the peer review system. As Chairman Smith continues work on the High Quality Research Act, it is likely the issue will continue to play out in Washington.

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