Since the subject of a potential but unlikely permanent mission to Mars is in the news, I’d like to nominate House Rep and Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas. Not to go to Mars though. I’m thinking he should be the guy standing beneath the rocket whenever a handful of intelligent people actually get off this filthy planet. Smith, if you’ll recall, was a big speechbox for the Stop Online Piracy Act that would have worsened the foundations of the Internet. In other words, everyone’s best friend.
Last week, Smith sent a letter to the National Science Foundation calling for detailed justification for a handful of studies approved by its independent panel. (Read the letter here.) He is now in the process of drafting a bill called the High Quality Research Act, which would more or less revert final say on research grants over to Congress. His lofty goal is to assure every grant the NSF gives out is of the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and will impact society at large. And as long as we’re being unrealistically idealistic, Smith also doesn’t want any studies to be “duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.” It would also call for regular reports from NSF to Congress on how things are going, and the bill also offers “advice” on how this blind politicization can be used in other science agencies. (Read the draft here.)
Well, goddamn, is that what scientists has been doing wrong all this time? They’ve just been successfully building up a bunch or research in common areas instead of going for broke and inventing things nobody has ever even heard of before. Lazy bums. Who wants to be reviewed by a variety of independent and professionally educated peers when you could instead get severely judged by a largely clueless group of financially motivated government reps? A government that is already limiting our future in science by severely cutting the science budget in the first place.
Keep in mind that this is only a draft — a stupid fucking draft — and not an actual submitted bill. But it still drew a much more eloquently worded letter of criticism from Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the top Democrat within the Committee. “This is the first step on a path that would destroy the merit-based review process at NSF,” she writes, “and intrudes political pressure into what is widely viewed as the most effective and creative process for awarding research funds in the world.”
“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,” she continues. There’s no denying the U.S. government really doesn’t give a shit about what boundaries it crosses when it comes to most things, but there is no room in science for government. Jedi beats Sith. Rock beats scissors. Science beats government.
To me, Lamar Smith seems like the kind of guy who will try to enter a building without opening the door first, just because his way would be easier and more efficient. Well, I’d just like to keep him out of the building altogether. Give a shout if you agree.