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Should the Government Fund Only Science in the “National Interest”?

National Geographic

National Geographic

The glass-and-concrete headquarters of the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, normally hosts scientists who decide the fate of fellow researchers’ grant proposals. But in a nondescript spare office on the 12th floor, new players have set up shop: congressional aides reviewing the merits of scientific studies conducted with government funding.

The two aides are evaluating the scientific merit of research proposals submitted to the the $7-billion-per-year agency, the nation’s biggest funder of basic science initiatives. They’ve selected several dozen federal science grants for special scrutiny, in a move that critics say reflects a conservative political agenda at work. Among these are a climate change education project, archaeology studies in Ethiopia, anthropology work in Argentina, and others dating back to 2005.

The aides, who have been at the NSF since August, have begun a review process that critics say threatens to topple a long-standing wall at the agency between science and politics. The new process reflects an escalating debate between scientists and politicians on Capitol Hill over how much of a say Congress should have in the scientific enterprise.

Click here to read more from this October 29, 2014 National Geographic article by Eli Kintisch.

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