I’m burning up about this one. Senator Coburn thinks he knows what science the federal government should be funding. We all know that money’s tight right now. And we all know that the Republicans have tried time and time again to attack science and, well let’s just say it, education and knowledge. And now they’re going after the very most basic research that drives innovation, technology and health in this country.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is charged “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” The research they fund ranges from basic biology that hasn’t (yet) been implicated in human health, to environmental and earth science, engineering and technology, and the humanities/social sciences. The level of funding from NSF is nowhere near what us biomedical scientists get from NIH, yet their funding is the foundation of many, hell I’d say the majority, of research programs in this country.
But Senator Coburn has a problem with them. I’ll be the first to admit, making sure that government agencies are running efficiently and honestly is a priority for all of us, especially in this economic climate. After reading through the report this morning however, Coburn’s manifesto appears to be no more than an ignorant attack on a select group of NSF-funded researchers. Coburn spends only a few pages outlining actual issues at NSF, most of which show his ignorance on the way federal funds are allocated, followed by caddy descriptions of NSF-funded programs deemed by him and his political attack squad as undeserving of federal funding. For an example of the type of research Coburn highlighted, see this post by an esteemed blogging colleague.
The projects funded by NSF have been reviewed by scores of leading researchers and deemed (uber-)acceptable for funding. In fact, many projects considered excellent choices for funding frequently fall below the funding cutoff, and are left in the cold despite their value to furthering our understanding of science. As a US Representative with no personal experience in basic research, no understanding of grant-writing, lab and project management, and no knowledge of the particular programs that he slanders, Coburn’s attack shows a complete lack of responsibility and decorum. Congress has every right to ensure federal agencies are functioning at top efficiency, but members of the legislature are ill-equipped to understand the complexities and importance of research conducted in these targeted programs. If he wanted to know more about this research, Coburn could have requested hearings with NSF personnel and leading researchers in these fields to learn more about why they are being pursued. Instead, the manner in which Coburn has chosen to embark on his
purely political mission is underhanded and hateful.
Please call your Congressperson today and talk to them about the importance of research and the freedom of scientists to conduct their research without fear of political reprisal in this country.