The Consortium of Social Science Associations held its Annual Colloquium on Social And Behavioral Sciences and Public Policy earlier this week. Amongst the speakers was Acting National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Cora Marrett.* As part of her remarks, she addressed how the Foundation was implementing the Coburn Amendment, which added additional criteria to funding political science research projects through NSF.
The first batch of reviews subject to these new requirements tookplace in early 2013. In addition to the usual criteria of intellectual merit and broader impacts, the reviewers looked at the ‘most meritorious’ proposals and examined how they contribute to economic development and/or national security. For the reviews scheduled for early 2014, all three ‘criteria’ will be reviewed at once.
Since researchers don’t like to be told what to do, they aren’t happy. But Marrett asserts through her remarks that this additional review will not really affect the outcomes of the program. From Jeffrey Mervis’ reporting in the Science piece, the research community doesn’t think so, and I suspect Senator Coburn (if he pays attention) wouldn’t be happy to see no change based on his new requirements.
But I’m reminded that the Foundation had the opportunity to embrace the coming changes (it’s unlikely that other fields won’t eventually be subjected to Coburn-like fiats from Congress) when the 2010 COMPETES reauthorization process encouraged a new look at expert review. In a statement of goals for broader impacts from the House Science and Technology Committee, both economic competitiveness and national security were listed. I’d guess Senator Coburn didn’t read it when developing his amendment (he doesn’t like political science research on principle, and would have rather banned the funding of it outright).
In a certain way, the scientific community, or at least its advocates, is starting to resemble the non-compromising members of Congress who can be credited for much of the recent unpleasantness. They keep saying no without presenting alternatives.
*(Confirmation Watch for Director Nominee Dr. Cordova – 3 months and counting)