back to article Surprise! Republican bill adds politics to science funding

The chairman of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Lamar Smith (R-TX), is planning new legislation that would limit the scope of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the biggest research-funding organization in the US, and bring funding decisions under political oversight. Smith - you might remember him …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    if any was still needed, that incompetent meddlers will always find a way to meddle, and demonstrate their incompetence.

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Proof

      How about putting Congress under scientific oversight?

      All economic decisions have to be modelled for outcomes, and the modelling has to be peer reviewed by people who know what they're doing. (I.e. not most politicians or academic economists.)

    2. BillG

      Re: Proof

      the bill would require each piece of funding to be signed off as unique, with no overlap with another study,

      Needed badly.

      Believe it or not, there is absolutely no mechanism that checks to see if a proposed project is already being duplicated by another project. It's more about "Hey, Extreme Partisans Inc has been a big help in getting me re-elected. Let's give them an award to study the effect of global warming on ducks. Just take that "The Effect of Global Warming on Ducks" study we gave the other guys and change the name to "Ducks and the Effect of Global Warming". Good, time for lunch.

      It is estimated that there is about $25Billion in project duplication, such as hundreds of identical studies on global warming and the Arctic ice.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Proof

        The Stupid Party rides again!

        Clearly this bill is intended to give big donors control over what gets funded. I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that research into cancer caused by frakking chemicals would get $0 under this bill.

        Corrupt bastards.

  2. Herby

    As one who at one time did benefit from NSF funding...

    This is a terrible idea. There are enough politics in research as it stands now, and adding in Congress would make it worse!

    1. Blank Reg Silver badge

      Re: As one who at one time did benefit from NSF funding...

      This pretty much guarantees that there will be little of any use to come out of US research institutions that rely on NSF funding.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: As one who at one time did benefit from NSF funding...

        Surely, armies of researchers looking for evidence that Jesus rode a dinosaur will produce something useful !

        1. NomNomNom

          Re: As one who at one time did benefit from NSF funding...

          "Surely, armies of researchers looking for evidence that Jesus rode a dinosaur will produce something useful !"

          You don't need armies of researchers to find evidence of that. Anyone can find the Truth in a certain book. You might have heard of it, it's called The Bible.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. cirby


    No, it doesn't "add" politics to science funding.

    It just changes the political process a bit, so the current people who manipulate the funding process would have to learn a different set of levers to pull. So they're upset.

  4. tkioz

    What a terrible terrible idea...

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Let me guess

    He wants the US to drop climate research, drop malaria research and research how humans and spend more money on research into just how God created the world in seven days.

    Oh, and he probably wants to stop research into gerrymandering, given the perfectly logical shape of the district he represents:

    (It's created to dilute the political power of San Antonio, a very liberal city, as much as possible.)

    1. Shannon Jacobs

      Climate research is okay, but would be limited to ONE project

      Presumably a joint "research" project funded together with Exxon. I'm sure they would be more careful this time since their last prominent scientist flipped on them and decided climate change IS happening after all.

      However, my main reaction is that this again proves the need for better economic models. We need to think more clearly about research in the context of making the future better. I even have a proposed analysis in hand:

      Seriously, the couch potatoes deserve more credit for helping the economy than they are usually given.

    2. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: Let me guess

      You missed one. He'd cut funding for AIDS cure or vaccine research, for those smitten by the disease are smitten by the lord Bob or something.

      One ponders a tax revolt from San Antonio, to regain their place in the politics of the land of hysteria...

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: Let me guess

        The only cure for AIDs is to stop angering God

    3. BillG

      Re: Let me guess

      I thought gerrymandering was invented by Al Gore. There are some Tennessee and Massachusetts Democratic congressional districts that are so twisted they look like snakes with epilepsy.

      1. John Hughes
        Thumb Down

        Re: Let me guess

        "I thought gerrymandering was invented by Al Gore. "

        If it were it would be called Goremandering, dummy.

        You're right about Massachusets, it's just the date you got wrong.

        Governer Elbridge Gerry redistrictred Massachusets in 1812 to benifit the Democratic-Republican party. Don't see how you could blame Al Gore for that.

  6. Don Jefe

    The Devil Take The Lot of Them

    Politicians do not belong in science. They have little actual sway in the scientific community because someone once wisely separated them. That's what the issue is really all about, the fact that the NSF can largely ignore the politicians and being ignored makes them stomp their little feet and cry big Hippo tears. Congress and specifically the GOP are worse than spoiled pre-teens and I used to believe that was impossible.

    The only positive out of all this is that both houses of Congress are so busy enjoying the smell their own farts while trying to shit in the other sides pool they can't get anything done. Bunch of moosedicks they are: Big and covered in pond scum.

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: The Devil Take The Lot of Them

      What amazes me is one thing. EVERY time gun sales went up, the GOP ratcheted their rhetoric and insanity back.

      Now, they're ignoring it. Indeed, they're ratcheting it up further and further.

      Continuing to strike matches and toss them in a room whose floor is soaked with gasoline.

  7. Steven Roper

    Separation of church and state

    should extend as far as: If you profess belief in any organised religion, you cannot stand for or be elected to public office or called to the bar. It has been made clear many, many times throughout history that those who believe in invisible men in the sky are not competent to direct the affairs of civilisation.

    Bugger "freedom of religion." It should be "freedom from religion." Along with the already-recognised freedoms from want, war, oppression and fear, at least three of which have religion as a primary cause.

    I mean, imagine if people went around claiming "freedom of oppression" or "freedom of war?" It would be a fucking joke.

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: Separation of church and state

      Using demagoguery to damn demagogues? Isn't that like a philosophical suicide vest?

      1. Steven Roper

        Re: Separation of church and state

        You could say that.

        Please forgive me. It's Monday morning here, and my sleep-in yesterday was rudely interrupted by some unwelcome peddlers of "the good news", so religion is pretty high on my hate-list at the moment!

        1. NomNomNom

          Re: Separation of church and state

          "Please forgive me. It's Monday morning here, and my sleep-in yesterday was rudely interrupted by some unwelcome peddlers of "the good news", so religion is pretty high on my hate-list at the moment!"

          You lazy sloth! The Lord's day of rest was on SUNDAY why are you still sleeping in on MONDAY???

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Separation of church and state

            NomNomNom, he WAS at the office.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Separation of church and state

        No it should just be treated like any mental illness.

        If during your driving test you continually ask the invisble elfs on the steering wheel if you should stop for pedestrians - you generally fail the test. In politics you fail if you don't claim to listen to them.

    2. Cirdan

      Re: Separation of church and state

      May His noodly appendages ever wave and touch your fevered brow with their Marinaran tenderness. Ramen.

      Pirates. What else, matey?

    3. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: Separation of church and state

      When one does as you suggest, one suppresses the voice of those who suffer from religion's delusions.

      We in the US also don't have a Constitutional right to freedom from war, oppression and fear. As evidenced by our disgraceful history and many wars in support of big business (Banana wars, anyone?).

      Still, I have fun with some of the online wannabe bullies, who make threats with their "second amendment remedies", who then learn that this "liberal" (their definition of me) owns a full dozen firearms and is a veteran of over 27 years (27 years, 8 months before retiring) and has a Special Forces background of significance.

      They decry it as BS until I give them a weapons inventory of what is in my firearms safes.

      What they don't consider is my unwillingness to shoot anything other than a valid competition target or game, but I'll not disabuse them of their delusions on some matters.

      Besides, I'd not soil my personal firearms on any treasonous rebel, I'd be recalled from retirement and issued a customized weapon. :)

      Yes, politically and socially, it's getting *that* ugly here in the US.

  8. Martin Budden

    Just imagine...

    Just imagine if that study linking aluminium to Alzheimer's was the only such study done, because others weren't allowed to "duplicate" the research.

    Just imagine if that study linking vaccinations to Autism was the only such study done, because others weren't allowed to "duplicate" the research.

    This guy is a numpty of the highest order. He has absolutely no clue, yet at the same time he has absolute confidence in his own opinions - a dangerous combination.

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: Just imagine...

      Honestly, this guy wants me to lobby Congress to permit Texas to depart from the union.

      Then, have a secondary suggestion to State that Mexico is welcome to reclaim Texas.

      1. technos

        Re: Just imagine...

        It could be argued that the President has the authority to renogitiate or withdraw from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo without Senate oversight, and Mexico never recognized the old Republic of Texas, after all.

    2. Christoph

      Re: Just imagine...

      Just imagine if the first study linking smoking and cancer was the only such study done.

  9. Eguro

    American credibility?

    Surely - in some ludicrous world where this passes - the consequence would be the ban of any references to American scientific research from that point on, in any other scientific research?

    "You paper presents some great ideas, and you seem to have done good work. However you referenced to Parker & Thompson 2014. Please review this problem with your paper and return once corrections have been made"

    I presume the American scientists would find a way around this stuff, but the very process would tar any contributions they might try to make to science. I guess it could mean a flight of scientists from America - but that of course might be what the good Mr. Smith is counting on.

    1. Eguro

      Re: American credibility?

      "Your paper [...]"

      There I fixed it for myself

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: American credibility?

        There I fixed it for myself

        And received three downvotes. We'll have no editing here at the Reg!

    2. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: American credibility?

      Ah, but then, he could move forward with another plan.

      The commercialization of NASA, defunding any NASA program and contracting it out to cronies.

    3. Don Jefe

      Re: American credibility?

      The problem with your idea is that the NSF funds a lot if research done in other countries. The NSF is the driving force behind a lot of global research, they're actually one of the 'good guys' that do happen to come from the States. Go to their website and look at how many projects the NSF funds (completely or in partnership) with other countries, even good ole England.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: American credibility?

        Given Ms. Palin's opinions on " fruit fly research in Paris, France.”" I can't see NSF funds being used for many more international projects.

      2. Eguro

        Re: American credibility?

        @Don Jefe

        You are correct, they do offer funding for some degree of international research.

        I would like to point out that I didn't - at least I don't think I did - come up with any ideas or preferred consequences. I was merely stating that if the US government were to scrap peer-review and pretty much the entire scientific method, then that research would have issues with believability. If the international funding done would surely also be subject to the same criteria for "science", and thus would likely suffer as well. So not just American research would be devalued, but any research affiliated with the NSF. I'll admit that my use of the word "ban" might have been too harsh, but I can't see research done for the US congress without peer review or a desire to retest to be valued highly by anyone in the science community.

        I think we can all agree the proposal is rubbish (at least if it's intended to further science, and not Lamars own agenda)

        Also - 2 thumbs down for making a pre-emptive grammar-nazi post?

  10. Chaserx
    Thumb Up

    "...a way to avoid unnecessary duplication in the field of science funding and as a way of allowing members of Congress to have an input into funding decisions."

    The U.S. federal government is overspending and borrowing 1 trillion a year. So Is this called oversight? How dare those congressmen rascals!

    1. localzuk Silver badge

      There's a huge difference between oversight and interference.

      Not to mention, duplication is how science works - experiments are repeated to confirm outcomes. They're repeated with slight modifications to see if that changes results. Duplication is key to science.

  11. joshua43214

    bad idea, but nothing new

    This is a really bad idea because it politicizes research, its just as bad to let extreme left wing politicians do this as extreme right wing.

    All that said, this and more is already in place. NSF funding requires that it benefit humankind (you must specify how), is good for the USA, is not being done or been done by someone else, and that the research can be continued after the research is complete (must specify how).

    NSF grants are hard to get, but they are the big money grants, otherwise most researchers would not bother to write them.

    And yes, I have written NSF grants...

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: bad idea, but nothing new

      As I recall, studies are funded to reproduce the results of other NSF studies.

      A slight exception on the rule.

      Removing overlap would end many, many fields funding though. For, any research in genetics would overlap in other research studies in genetics. Much of that is true in subatomic physics.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: bad idea, but nothing new

      None of the three examples presented in this article have clear benefits to the USA. Which is a perfectly good reason to require precisely the sort of reporting being required by the proposal. NSF is already politicized, this is just an attempt to weed out some of the leftwing loons.

    3. Don Jefe
      Thumb Down

      Re: bad idea, but nothing new

      The majority of NSF grants are tiny, less than $200k over three years. The average grant is about $160k annual over about three years. There are a few dozen big projects that skew the average but we are not talking big bucks here. So no, most NSF grants are positively absolutely not big money grants.

      Here's a nice PDF to show you the error of your ways & why you should know what you're talking about before you start making ridiculous statements:

  12. M Gale

    Indiana Pi Bill

    That is all.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Indiana Pi Bill

      No, that is not all. You forgot another lesson from history, one that Republicans might be more comfortable with.

      *That's* what happens when politicians decide on funding priorities.

      1. MondoMan

        Re: Indiana Pi Bill

        WR, that's what happens when vicious dictators decide on funding priorities. Politicians don't normally have the guts to back their beliefs with genocide.

  13. P. Lee


    How quaint! People who think scientists are unaffected by politics or who provides the money.

    Not only that, but I'm so pleased that none of the posters above appear to have any political views regarding who should get funding for science research.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm dubious of this legislation and it appears open to intense abuse, but the driver may be that someone noticed 1001 research projects into the effects of internet porn on the male psyche. It might be important, or it might be a predictably, er, self-serving.

    Personally, I'd be far more concerned about morality-free corporates with profit motives and capital reserves corrupting the political system, than I would be about individual politicians reflecting their constituents' views.

  14. dts9308

    Political Games

    President Obama himself insinuated that vaccines may cause health problems -autism. This is so debunkedany times over it's becoming dangerous. In FL a young girl just died of Whooping Cough. "The science is settled on global warming." Oh wait, our models may have been wrong since there has been no warming in the last 15 years. This is a fact. Is this not politicizing in itself?

  15. Rattus Rattus

    "this shows a basic misunderstanding of how scientific experimentation works."

    Well, duh. He's a Republican.

    1. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: "this shows a basic misunderstanding of how scientific experimentation works."

      He's not just a Republican, he's the poster child for the "party of stupid"

      There are signs that the Republicans are starting to believe that there might not be an inexhaustable supply of older wealthy white guys. One by one, they are beginning to understand that the conservative wing of the party isn't resonating with the majority of US voters.

      But Lamar Smith stands proudly for the old ways.

  16. MondoMan

    Maybe this is really the issue?

    The article quotes President Obama as saying: "...not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science – all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review...".

    As a former molecular biologist, to me it's pretty clear that Obama's statement is typically honored only in the breach. Sure, it's become fashionable in recent years for social "scientists" to follow the economists' lead and quantify everything and even construct mathematical models to make their work look like science. Unfortunately, just as with the economists' work 20 or 30 years ago, almost always the models are mis-specified, or the work relies on subjective assumptions because the author doesn't really understand the math or statistics. Physics and the life sciences (and computer science for that matter) are successful because their models and maths can quickly and easily be checked with reality for results that all can see.

    Sadly, this is typically not so in the social sciences, so severely erroneous explanations and theories go on unhindered for decades or even a century (for example, there are still people who claim Freud's theories to be based in fact, and that Freudian therapy works better than baseline supportive therapy!).

    Given the (relatively) big bucks to be had from the NSF, it sounds like the social sciences decided to get in on the funding action and have NSF allocate them money as well. The Congressman's action seems as though it might be a very poorly thought out way to highlight some of the seemingly poor grants given out as a result.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: might be a very poorly thought out way to highlight some of the seemingly poor grants

      And what would be a well thought out proposal?

      1. MondoMan

        Re: might be a very poorly thought out way to highlight some of the seemingly poor grants

        Splitting the social "sciences" into their own funding body (similar to the National Endowment for the Humanities) would probably be a good start. OMG! We've solved the flame war!

  17. Esskay


    Anything already covered by the Bible would be considered duplicitous and therefore ineligible for funding?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Presumably

      Republicans need no science as the world is proved to be 10.000 years old and other important questions are in the bible somewhere.

  18. Turtle


    "One of the things that I've tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years," Obama said, "is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science – all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review – but in all the sciences, we've got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they're not subject to politics."

    That's a pretty fucking broad definition of science. Obama seems to be pretty nearly as ignorant as Smith.

    And the talk about "the integrity of our scientific progress" comes a bit late; that was lost decades ago.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I am all for this, let the idiot government give a good hard push down the slope of idiocy, when buying technolgy expertise from China don't expect it cheap, for they will be the only game in town.

    1. Christoph

      Re: Hurrah

      If someone wanted to damage the United States, but couldn't attack them militarily, and so decided to undermine and sabotage all the things that keep that country prosperous and dominant - how would their programme differ from that of the Republican Party?

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: how would their programme differ from that of the Republican Party?

        They'd be less obvious about it.

        The scientific illiteracy of this proposal is, in fact, the reason why I'm going to give this guy the benefit of the doubt and assume he is an idiot rather than an enemy agent.

  20. Christoph

    "in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense."

    Tough luck Signor Galvani - making frogs legs twitch doesn't help secure the defence of the United States!

    1. NomNomNom

      not true, we might be able to work out how to make marines jump higher

  21. James 51

    "limit the scope of the National Science Foundation (NSF)"

    In that case he would need to remose the S.

    " Former Committee member Todd Akin (R-MO) also seemed under the impression that women could not get pregnant from "legitimate rape".

    He's thinking of ducks. They're easy to mix up.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      ... and what the hell is "legimate rape"? The phrase doesn't make any sense!

  22. firefoxx

    A poor anaysis from Reg readers (sorry).

    I work in an organisation issuing government grants for science.

    *Please* everyone - always remember that the government has taken your tax to put into research, and the political right wing do *not* want to do that unless it is spent efficiently and they have some control over how it is used. They have to account for it to the voters. They can't just take the lefty approach saying "Here you go scientists, here's tons of other people's cash. You decide how best to spend it".

    The military are actually pretty good at this, because they are a long way ahead of commercial products in terms of basic science knowledge (materials, optics, computing, physics and what is called "human effectiveness"). They're very careful to direct the research toward the results they want, and avoid recovering the same ground.

    And *please* do not think that the highest level of political players are all idiots. They clearly are not. No one wants to have to justify to the press why your staff spending half a million quid on a study of how shiny their pens are. It has to be part of a top-level strategy, not a free for all.

    1. xperroni

      Re: A poor anaysis from Reg readers (sorry).

      Yes – because "legitimate rape" is surely a thing.


    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: A poor anaysis from Reg readers (sorry).

      The problem is the science and technology committee in US politics.

      Science has zero public interest, it also has very little commercial input (except for defense) - this means that a member of the science and technology committee cannot raise enough financial support from the public or corporations to fund their re-election campaign. Being on the committee is electoral death.

      As a result the comittee is the dumping ground for lunatics that couldn't get on any other comittee and people with an inherited seat (generally from the bible belt) who don't need to raise money because they have captive voters.

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: A poor anaysis from Reg readers (sorry).

      "The military are actually pretty good at this, because..."

      Sorry? You're citing military R&D as a pretty good example of cost-effective research?

      Hmm. Others might beg to differ.

  23. bearded bear can
    Thumb Up

    The Chinese decade

    The west had it all - and we blew it.

    Praise Jesus! And my sniper rifle.

  24. Unicornpiss


    Instead of policing the already properly working Peer Review process, how about instead creating an overview committee to eliminate the waste of money and resources used to promote unpopular and useless political legislation? (such as this very bill, for example)

  25. AkodoGilador

    No repeated research?

    *Most* research should be repeating other people's work, not none of it - eg


  26. Anonymous Coward

    An idea for funding for a unique research paper...

    Was this idiot dropped on his head as a baby? Did he have surgery to remove 90% of his brain or does he, in fact, share a genetic condition in common with all politicians?

    Enquiring minds wish to know.

  27. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Mixed feelings

    As a scientist who has worked in the Eu and US I would naturally be against this.

    However, the idea of a USA without any technology does have a certain comfort factor.

    The idea that the next little adventure in overseas democracy will consist of Southern baptist preachers standing around a cruise missile (without an engine or warhead) commanding "the power of Christ compels you to fly" while on the other side a short fat guy in a great suit is photoshopping extra tanks - does have an appeal

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Mixed feelings

      Sorry that should have been "grey suit "(auto-complete on the phone)

      I hope none of the downvotes were due to people who despair of the great leader's tailoring.

  28. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Cue a Brain Drain

    When researchers leave the US, for pretty much anywhere else, the US loses its already tenuous lead in global reaserch and development, slips behind economically as a result, ends up as a third-world country and finally, when they can no longer repay their debts, a part of greater China, where, despite their many failings, they at least have the common sense to invest properly in scientific research.

    Bye bye Uncle Sam, it was nice knowing you.

  29. PassiveSmoking

    War on science

    I don't know about anyone else, but I for one am getting sick and tired on the war on science being waged by the antiintellectual and religious zealots.

    In the UK an advisory panel gave the government fact-based advice on drug policy. Instead of listening, they basically sacked the adviaory panel.

    There's ever more pressure on schools to give "equal time to alternative theories on human origin" in science classes (ie force science teachers to fill children's heads with religious propaganda).

    In a world where people have walked on another planet and where you can talk to someone in Australia as if they were in the next room this is just utterly increadible to me (in the original meaning of the word, there is no credibility to it).

    Scientists have always relied on the idea that the facts are indesputible and will eventually win out against any political or religiously motivited stupidity. I don't think that's really the case. Science needs to start pushing back against this tide of dogma and stupidity.

  30. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    It is the lobbyists and big business they need to worry about

    Surely there should be concern that if the politicians get to decide what applications for research grants are funded, the poeple who actually decide will be the lobbyists and their masters, the companies which fund them and make major donations to election funds. The idea that the petrochemical industry, tobacco industry, and pharmaceutical industry should be able to influence or even veto research into the effects of their products is truly frightening.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's really an attack on sex studies

    Given the Republican anxiety over anything related to sex and religion, this is a blatant attempt to bring religious bias into science. We'll see "No Funds" stamped on genetic research, cosmology, stem cells, anything to do with sex and a long list of other heathen practices.

    God help American science!

  32. Stevie


    Republican...ignorant of how science works. Spot the redundancy.

    These idiots won't be satisfied until they have built Iran in the homeland. What a shame, in retrospect, that the CSE wasn't allowed to go their own way and take their crazy-ass people with them. Darn you, Honest Abe!

    It occurs to me that members of Congress get fat checks from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, and that if the government stops funding independent research ("We're not cutting back on science, just on wasted taxpayer money") the only people who will be able to afford to do this stuff will be the mega corps, who may dictate the agenda and thus protect markets.

    This must just be my paranoia gland misfiring owing to all the coffee I drank today. It couldn't happen in the real world.

  33. Esskay

    Simple solution

    If anyone starts querying why the science budget is so high, just tell them you can't explain it because it's irreducibly complex.

    Should pretty much guarantee funding.

This topic is closed for new posts.