Thursday, May 2, 2013

Let's Be Careful, USA

It's bad enough that we in the US have decided we don't value education and science enough to pay for it but now, in addition to decreasing scientific research budgets, our policy makers want to decide what is good science rather than letting scientists decide what is good science? That is fucking scary!

"In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF," Johnson wrote in a letter obtained by ScienceInsider. "I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value."

In her letter, Johnson warns Smith that "the moment you compromise both the merit review process and the basic research mission of NSF is the moment you undo everything that has enabled NSF to contribute so profoundly to our national health, prosperity, and welfare." She asks him to "withdraw" his letter and offers to work with him "to identify a less destructive, but more effective, effort" to make sure NSF is meeting that mission.

That excerpt makes me want to shake Johnson's hand. 

The essence of scientific research and progress is peer review. It's the basis for the entire process. From the first science report you submit in grade school to the top tier grants you apply for as a full professor, it's all about peer review. Research doesn't happen in a vacuum (even privately funded, patent protected research findings go through regulation testing/departments before they can be used in an open market) and it shouldn't happen in a vacuum.* Rigorous peer review improves the quality and the impact of research that is funded and performed.

And it's called PEER review for a reason. I wouldn't send a scientific paper to a lawyer for feedback just as I wouldn't expect to be asked to edit a law brief. If we take trained scientists out of the equation of reviewing science and place it into the hands of politicians we would be taking expertise out of the equation and that's complete nonsense.

Let's be careful!

* obviously research studying the effects of vacuum environments (like this for example) should happen in a vacuum. :-)

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