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Republican Proposal Puts 'National Interest' Requirement On US Science Agency 382

Posted by Soulskill
from the otherwise-the-terrorist-win dept.
ananyo writes "Key members of the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking to require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to justify every grant it awards as being in the 'national interest.' The proposal, included in a draft bill from the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and obtained by Nature, would force the NSF to document how its basic science grants benefit the country. The requirement is similar to one in a discussion draft circulated in April by committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). At the time, scientists raised concerns that 'national interest' was defined far too narrowly. The current draft bill provides a more expansive definition that includes six goals: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress, and national defense. But many believe that predicting the broader impacts of basic research is tantamount to gazing into a crystal ball. 'All scientists know it's nonsense,' says John Bruer, president of James S. McDonnell Foundation and former co-chair of an NSF task force that examined requiring scientists to state the 'broader impacts' of their work in grant applications."
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Republican Proposal Puts 'National Interest' Requirement On US Science Agency

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  • National Interest? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:35PM (#45350235)

    Maybe they should start by requiring the military to demonstrate how everything it spends is in the 'National Interest'.

    I think you'd lose a lot of pork.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe they should start by requiring the military to demonstrate how everything it spends is in the 'National Interest'.

      Response from military:
      "it pertects us from them a-rab terryrist bastards"
      (approve; repeat until requests are exhausted)

      Meanwhile, from science:
      "This will help us learn more ab-"
      (reject immediately at mention of "learning", order thug-like security to issue enhanced interrogation until the stupid nerd knows never to ask the bullies for help ever again)

      • by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:55PM (#45350485)

        This is something I've never understood about the military: anyone bright enough to achieve more than a grunt rank will know that the military hasn't been engaged in mere defense for decades, so why exactly did they join up?

        • by SJHillman (1966756) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:11PM (#45350709)

          They would counter that they've been engaged in the *best* defense.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Princeofcups (150855)

          This is something I've never understood about the military: anyone bright enough to achieve more than a grunt rank will know that the military hasn't been engaged in mere defense for decades, so why exactly did they join up?

          For college money. The government has made sure that the majority of people can no longer afford their education.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:12PM (#45351295)

          for you. First, the U.S. military does indeed have defense as its primary function

          We have several hundred ships in the Navy, for example, and at any moment there are US Navy ships all over the world making sure the seaways remain open so that commerce, people, etc may freely pass (which provides a great deal of economic stability and thus reduces economic and geopolitical "stresses" that have historically led to wars). Those ships also perform humanitarian services, frequently pulling civilians from the seas and returning them to their families, while always as a result being ready and able to swing into a strong military posture should the nation need it. None of the land wars we've been involved in lately and of which you probably were thinking affected any of this.

          The Air Force has missiles in silos and bombers which are strategic deterrence; some of those bombers have been used in recent ground wars, but that was only a temporary use.

          The Army and Marines have indeed been involved in many recent activities (I personally do not care if you call them "wars" "police actions" etc, the kinetics are the same) that were not the simple-minded obvious form of defense (as-in "man the ramparts!") but which were positioned as defense via dealing with problems over where they were festering before they blew-up into full-scale wars

          The REAL point of all this is that the military in the U.S. exists for defense and is capable of defense BUT it answers to civilian leadership and follows civilian orders (which I presume you would prefer over the alternative) therefore these people and systems which exist for defense follow the orders and judgement of the civilians in determining what exactly IS "defense" and and how that end is best achieved. In the 1930's the civilians erred on the side of not acting early (the military followed its orders then and was inadequately armed and trained) and the military then had to fight a world war. In the decades since, the civilian leadership has repeatedly decided to have the military act early, far from home, in places like Korea, Vietnam, and the middle-east (and the military has followed those orders). Don't like it? Look in the mirror and take your elections more seriously.

          • by i-like-burritos (1532531) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @10:30PM (#45352383)
            I appreciate your answer to this question. You make a rational argument where so many others that I've talked to jump straight into "the terrorists hate our freedom!" type arguments. I happen to be more cynical and I don't believe that our civilian leaders are simply "acting early," but I respect that you at least supported your position rationally.

            What I really take issue with is this:

            Don't like it? Look in the mirror and take your elections more seriously.

            I do not support what's happening at Guantanamo Bay. I voted for Obama in 2008 largely because he vowed to close it. He won the election, and yet he did not close it. That is the strongest example I have of why you cannot blame the electorate; we simply don't get what we vote for.

            Furthermore, those same civilian leaders who tell us that the war on terror is necessary also tell us that marijuana is dangerous and that "legitimate rape" doesn't result in pregnancy. At what point should we start holding people responsible for believing them? Even if the civilian voter does believe them, they aren't the ones pulling the triggers.

            • by Nimey (114278)

              Point of order: Obama /did/ try to close Guantanamo more than once, but Congress repeatedly blocked him. You can't pin this one on him.

        • The GI bill...its why I signed up.

        • by couchslug (175151) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @01:04AM (#45353223)

          Came for the Cold War, stayed for the career, retired in my forties and need not work again. The military can be a satisfying way of life.

          The world is composed of competing gangs so one may as well mob deep with the best-armed. The (very recent) idea that war should be a moral commitment (other folks call that "jihad") rather than a tool of international power adjustment is childish and stupid. Since one war looks like another, I didn't require the ones I served in be jihads.

          The American public adore war as a (distant) spectator sport, they don't by and large want to go themselves, so "pay me, motherfuckers".

    • by lgw (121541) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:02PM (#45350607) Journal

      Maybe they should start by requiring the military to demonstrate how everything it spends is in the 'National Interest'.

      I think you'd lose a lot of pork.

      The military has been doing that for years. These days, the primary skill needed by general officers is planning equipment and staff reductions while keeping some ability to fight. It's quite eye-opening to watch the talks by senior military staff that make their way to YouTube, and see e.g. an admiral talking about how the Navy plans to lose a carrier battle group - not in war, but to congress.

      For everyone who delights in America having a weaker military, don't worry, it's definitely coming. This NSF story is just one of hundreds of similar stories (but this one is News for Nerds).

      We're broke. The congresscritters are cutting everything except checks mailed to supporters as fast as they can. I expect a 5-10 year reprieve soon here, as the economy is recovering and the tax base along with it, but at the next economic downturn it will all collapse.

      Oh, well, the important stuff (other then the military) is done at the state and local level anyhow. Roads and schools and police and firefighting and so on can get by without a functional federal government (some would argue that's already the case).

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        We need to pick our battles, not leap at every opportunity.

      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:22PM (#45350833)

        It's quite eye-opening to watch the talks by senior military staff that make their way to YouTube, and see e.g. an admiral talking about how the Navy plans to lose a carrier battle group - not in war, but to congress.

        Considering that we have 10 carriers, our NATO allies have 8 more, and all countries that could plausibly be considered "enemies" have a total of two, this seems like a reasonable place to cut spending. Citation: List of aircraft carriers by country [wikipedia.org]

        For everyone who delights in America having a weaker military, don't worry, it's definitely coming.

        Cheaper doesn't have to mean weaker. Cutting a carrier battle group will save tens of billions, but make little difference to our national security. Training soldiers to understand Arabic or Pashtun language and culture would cost a tiny fraction of that, and would likely make a bigger difference.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by lgw (121541)

          Sure, whatever. I'm sure the armchair generals and admirals here on /. can do a better job of figuring out what to cut than professionals with 30 years of experience in the field. Why not, we make the same silly comments in every other specialty, from physics to biology. "Oh, in five minutes I saw the something the professional experts aren't smart enough to see, and there are no flaws in my idea!" Sure you did.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:14PM (#45351311)

            I'm sure the armchair generals and admirals here on /. can do a better job of figuring out what to cut than professionals with 30 years of experience in the field.

            That right there is the problem. Professionals in their field don't want to cut anything in their field. Everything they do is very, very important and everything they ask for is fully justified because they are 'professions with 30 years of experience'. If given the option they would spend every last cent of the national budget making super-super carriers that can fly into outer space just incase those damn [commies | terrorists | fascists | anarchists | liberals] attack from their secret moon base. Worse, congress would allow it if the public would tolerate it as there is very heavy investing in the defense industry by those same people that make budget decisions.

          • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:32PM (#45351527)

            Sure, whatever. I'm sure the armchair generals and admirals here on /. can do a better job of figuring out what to cut than professionals with 30 years of experience in the field.

            The generals will want more money for the army. The admirals will want more money for the navy. They will never advocate a reduction in defense spending. They are notorious for preparing for the last war. How much did those carrier battle groups help us with the insurgency in Iraq?

            Why not, we make the same silly comments in every other specialty, from physics to biology.

            Sure. The physicists will want more money for super-colliders. The biologists will want more money for life sciences. They should not have the final say on their budget any more than the generals should.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Actually, the professionals (both military and private) have been saying for years that we can dramatically cut defense spending.

            The problem is Congress and their profligate spending. Congress allocates more in defense spending than even the Pentagon asks for! They even overruled Gates when he was Secretary of Defense--someone who every politician on every side of the aisle respected.

            The second problem is, even though almost ever professional admits that there are tens of billions of cuts, which cuts to mak

          • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @09:48PM (#45352159) Homepage Journal

            Sure, whatever.

            Conservative debating fine points: When you don't have a good answer, "Sure, whatever" will suffice.

            lgw, why in the world would you think that military professionals would be the right people to make decisions on military spending? Have you ever read the US constitution? There's a reason we put civilians in charge of the military.

            Asking a member of our military apparatus what they think of military spending cuts is like asking a heroin addict what he thinks of rehab.

        • Considering that we have 10 carriers, our NATO allies have 8 more, and all countries that could plausibly be considered "enemies" have a total of two, this seems like a reasonable place to cut spending.

          According to Wiki we have 3 new ones under construction. So the number is going UP, not down.

        • The military, any military, uses the advantages it has. Asymmetrical warfare - such as running airplanes into the World Trade Center - means that a weaker enemy can achieve disproportional results. It does not mean that the stronger party should give up its advantages. To act in the face sufficient provocation, the US should retain the ability to turn an aggressor nation into a pool of lava.
        • Considering that we have 10 carriers, our NATO allies have 8 more, and all countries that could plausibly be considered "enemies" have a total of two, this seems like a reasonable place to cut spending.

          Well, it's not as simple as you try to paint it... Collectively the eight carriers owned by our allies are equivalent to maybe three of ours. (I.E., you're comparing semi-trailers (US supercarriers) to pickup trucks (what the rest of the world mainly owns).) Further, carriers don't just fight with other ca

        • I imagine the US would have a whole lot more enemies if it gave up its ability to project force to multiple geographic locations simultaneously.

      • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:18PM (#45351367)

        For everyone who delights in America having a weaker military, don't worry, it's definitely coming.

        Americans don't want a "weaker" military, but a cheaper one. If we have to sacrifice some of our unnecessarily high military might to save a lot of money, we are willing.

        • No, we don't. Some are, and some are not. I worked with a single person who was vocal about his views, and he wants small government and a large military.

          I found it necessary to balance need and funding. He disagreed. Of the thousands of people I know, I only have two views on military strength, and we balance to a disagreement. I can infer several staunch republicans and their opinions, and several democrats and their opinions. But most people don't bleat their affiliations like sheep, so I have to a

      • by pitchpipe (708843) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:03AM (#45352923)

        We're broke.

        That's a fucking lie. The root of the problem is not collecting enough taxes from rich people. We used to do this.

        • by rujholla (823296)

          You are both wrong. Current government income is at or close to an all time high. We aren't broke, we just are spending too much. And look at the times when the high bracket tax rates were higher -- revenue was down. Raising taxes only increases revenue for a year or two at the end of which people have adjusted their actions to the new rates to avoid payments.

    • by schwit1 (797399)

      A significant chunk of military spending is forced on them by Congress.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:37PM (#45350245)

    ...be applied to politicians? (of all colours)

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:38PM (#45350253) Homepage

    The problem is that you don't, and usually can't, know what the results of basic research are going to be. For example, it'd be really hard to show how research into the electrical characteristics of silicon would be in the national interest, because on it's own (without knowing what'll come from it) you can't show how it'll satisfy any of those criteria. Yet without that research we wouldn't have semiconductors, which means no integrated circuit chips, which means none of the smart bombs and drone aircraft and the massive computer banks that drive the surveillance and data-collection efforts that the Republicans are so fond of supporting as being so crucial to national security.

    If something that's so obviously in the national interest couldn't at the time it was proposed meet any of the criteria listed, why in the world should we consider those criteria valid? Yeah, preaching to the choir here...

    • The whole of Silicon Valley and the Fairchild Instruments-planar-process birth of the modern semiconductor industry was driven by massive infusions of Federal money, military money. The whole integrated circuit thing was motivated by a solid-state guidance system for ICBMs and other military systems.

      The whole of large-scale funding of science and engineering came out of WW-II -- the Manhatten Project and microwave radar.

      It is kinda like the early commenters don't know who is paying the bills and why.

      • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:02PM (#45350603)

        The whole of large-scale funding of science and engineering came out of WW-II -- the Manhatten Project and microwave radar.

        No, it's been around for a lot longer than that. The french even in the 18th century had a national science policy that was essentially what we're talking about here - things that directly benefit the country. The British had a more laissez faire approach to the whole thing with the Royal Society, and never really congealed a cohesive plan. Since the two regularly stole from each other for a couple of centuries it worked out OK. The british did a lot of fundamental science, the french did a lot of practical stuff, and they just copied each other where it was relevant.

        Since the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 there have been various efforts at funding science in the way we think of it through universities, I suppose arguably you could even go back to the 11th or 12th century in Italy for something similar, though that was much more limited in scope.

        Government funding is a sort of odd concept. If you expect rich lords to subsidize the children of other rich lords (who sit in the house of lords) being educated at a government school is that government funding? Not exactly, but it's not really different either. The world has had had government support for industry and research for centuries, but different funding models are well, different. Tax breaks, making members of the government pay for it, making 'The Church' pay for etc. have all been going on for ages.

      • by zAPPzAPP (1207370) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:08PM (#45350667)

        You are listing applications.
        Of course, once these applications are on the horizon, the money starts flowing.
        But without basic research, that would never have happened. They would instead have funnelled the money into developing better tubes.

      • by jonsmirl (114798)

        I think this more about stopping funding of things like this:

        Dr. Li’s project will develop, implement and evaluate a venue-based alcohol and HIV risk reduction intervention center for establishment-based female sex workers in Guangxi, China. The sex trade is more prevalent in Guangxi, Dr. Li said, an area ranked third in the rate of HIV among provinces.

        http://prognosis.med.wayne.edu/article/grant-allows-research-to-study-link-between-alcohol-abuse-and-spread-of-hiv [wayne.edu]

        If you're going to study hookers, the

        • by cusco (717999)

          With American hookers you can't limit their intoxicant choice to just alcohol, so it would be harder to control the study group.

    • by mx+b (2078162) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:57PM (#45350529)

      Some of the professors/scientists I worked with before were great at doing this. Technically you are correct, but these people really knew how to come up with crazy narratives about how important the research is and how it can lead to advances in defense, generate more money, etc. (this was how I originally came to work with them, I fell for the marketing in my more idealistic days; when I couldn't work on what I thought I would because the push was more on doing some research that could be tied to the marketing, I ultimately left).

      The unfortunate side of this legislation is that it will cause an opposite effect. The things that will get funding are the BS more-marketing-than-legit-research proposals made by people that don't have a unique thoughtful idea at all (just looking at getting grants and tenure), and the actual true research proposals where someone has a legitimate interest to study and cannot predict its ultimate value will get thrown in the gutter.

      It's very sad, let's try not to let this happen. But I guess to do so, not only do you need to stop this type of legislation, but you need good people in general reading the proposals...

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      That's what private enterprise is for.

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:09PM (#45350677) Journal

        This. By definition, if something is already obviously of benefit to everyone, some company is already doing research on it, and spending government money to subsidize that research provides no benefit whatsoever, because the research would get done anyway. Restrictions like what these senators are proposing fundamentally undermine the usefulness of the NSF, whose sole benefit to humanity is that they fund research that would not otherwise get done. They push the envelope. They explore new ideas whose benefits aren't yet clearly established.

        If these people happen to be your senators, please write to them and tell them that this proposal will destroy our nation's ability to compete intellectually in the next century, and sets the stage for total economic collapse in the years to come.

        • by jfengel (409917)

          We're talking about Lamar Smith here. He's a climate denialist and Christian Scientist. It's hard to imagine him suddenly having a change of heart on what scientists think is relevant.

          The fact that we've got a political system that puts anti-intellectuals in charge of the science committee means we've already destroyed the nation's ability to compete intellectually in the next century. This is just watching that play out.

    • Wonderfully put! An argument and example a lawyer (like the Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology) would love...wait a minute, why is there a lawyer heading my science committee?
      • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:39PM (#45351605)

        Wonderfully put! An argument and example a lawyer (like the Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology) would love...wait a minute, why is there a lawyer heading my science committee?

        You're talking about a faction that thinks that Government should be run like a Business.

        Think about that. Do you really WANT your government to be making a profit? That's what businesses are supposed to to. If government makes a profit, it's likely either doing on something that could be offloaded to a business or they're up to something questionable. And in any event, unless they're one of those unusual places with negative taxes, they're doing so at the expense of taxpayers.

        Once upon a time, businesses operated for the long term and "blue-sky" R&D was something they routinely did themselves. More recently, however, business is all about shuffling subsidiaries in and out for fun and profit and anything longer than 6 months ahead of today is virtually unthinkable.

        There aren't too many other places these days that can finance pure research. Unless we bring back the old nobility. Which does seem to be possible at the rate we've been going.

        • by b4upoo (166390)

          Dark matter and dark energy so far are inscrutable. It is hard to know if we will ever be able to really do anything with dark matter or dark energy. But to suggest we should not fund research for these and many other items is foolish. Since we do not know what may come from such research it is ultra important that we do not create a situation where a less than friendly nation just might find some really powerful ways to harness these items. In other words not knowing the potential of such research

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:12PM (#45350713) Journal

      Republicans are doing this because every once in a while there's a news story about NSF funds being used to research duck erections or some other weird sounding science.
      The story comes out, Republicans decry it as waste/fraud/abuse, then they rail against big government etc etc etc.
      http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/04/duck-penis-study/63805/ [theatlanticwire.com]

      Back in the 70s and 80s, a Democratic Senator used to give out Golden Fleece Awards [wikipedia.org].
      It went pretty much as one would expect, with a lot of "fleecings" turning out to be useful programs
      and one liable case that went to the Supreme Court, where the Senator lost and eventually settled out of court.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This reminds me of Sarah Palin complaining about fruit fly research. People who don't know shit about science need to just get out of the way.

      • Back in the 70s and 80s, a Democratic Senator used to give out Golden Fleece Awards [wikipedia.org].
        It went pretty much as one would expect, with a lot of "fleecings" turning out to be useful programs
        and one liable case that went to the Supreme Court, where the Senator lost and eventually settled out of court.

        I don't know his party or state for sure, but you're referring to William Proxmire. Supposedly one of the Golden Fleece winners was a study on how barnacles stick to boats. Aside from the obvious benefit if you're a boat owner, the story goes that the end result was something called SuperGlue.

        Proxmire wasn't giving his awards out in 1948, I don't think, and Bell Labs was a private concern (though probably raking in some government funding), but once they invented the laser, it took literally decades to find

    • by grammar fascist (239789) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:13PM (#45350741) Homepage

      It's not only not impossible, but it's pretty much always possible. You just have to think like someone who chases funding.

      Everyone who reviews proposals knows the future is uncertain, so they don't currently expect a proposal to accurately predict, say, how someone's research would benefit math education. The key is to explain how what you're proposing could plausibly help. Doing it well comes down to having a reasonable story, having good salesmanship, and wordsmithing.

      The new requirements seem very broadly applicable. For example, I could twist scientific literacy, promotion of scientific progress, and possibly national defense into justifying the grant proposal I'm currently working on. "Scientific progress" in particular would be very easy. I expect it would be similarly easy for any other academic who expects to publish at leat one paper on research that he or she intends to support by an NSF grant.

      So this probably wouldn't change anything, except to require another section in every proposal, which would just waste everyone's time. It would save exacly zero dollars, and cost a few for every proposal just by a naive conversion from time to money. There are also one-time costs. The only possible way this could save money is by slowing down the overall process.

      While I'm railing, I should also mention that active researchers review other people's NSF proposals. Adding another requirement takes time they could use to, I dunno, do useful research?

      Everyone who chases funding knows how to play the game. Adding rules won't keep them from getting money, and it'll cost time.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      All basic research is in the national interest. It provides the best ROI of any investment a country can make.

    • by jc42 (318812)

      Yup, and a general response I've seen that I sorta like is: If you can say beforehand what the results of your research will be, then it isn't research, it's engineering. Of course, we need good engineering, too. But first, we have to have the scientific knowledge that good engineering is based on, and that requires scientific research (plus learning from our mistakes ;-).

      In general, you can only predict the outcome of something that you know and understand. If you want to extend your knowledge and

  • by aralin (107264) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:39PM (#45350263)

    I'm for this proposal, if the same bill will include a requirement for all military financing to declare ahead of time which military conflict the weapon will be used with specifics and financial analysis of the impact for dollar compared to current weapons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dontbemad (2683011)
      I find it kind of sad that, at the time of this comment's writing, this has been rated +5 Funny and not +5 Insightful.
  • That is easy ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:39PM (#45350265)

    Key members of the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking to require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to justify every grant it awards as being in the 'national interest.'

    It is in our national interest to be on the leading edge of science and technology, therefore basic research is in the national interest.

  • by OhANameWhatName (2688401) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:40PM (#45350277)
    This is an incredibly good idea. And if it's good enough for science, it should also be good enough for government. Political campaign funding should be the first thing to be justified in relation to this 'national interest'. Military expenditure, committees, homeland security, the CIA, the NSA, secrecy, court appointments, taxation, the TSA, body scanners, laws .. well, just about everything should meet this criteria shouldn't it?

    I suppose that if the politicians were required to be held up to their own standards, who would be making the judgement? Hmmm what a pickle hey!
    • This is an incredibly good idea. And if it's good enough for science, it should also be good enough for government. Political campaign funding should be the first thing to be justified in relation to this 'national interest'. Military expenditure, committees, homeland security, the CIA, the NSA, secrecy, court appointments, taxation, the TSA, body scanners, laws .. well, just about everything should meet this criteria shouldn't it?

      Wait, you think it should apply to us?!?!?!?!

      On second thought, maybe this isn't such a great idea...

      -- Congress

  • by Antipater (2053064) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:43PM (#45350297)
    "Promotion of scientific progress" seems pretty broad. Can anyone think of some basic research going on right now that wouldn't fit in one of those six categories? Seems to me like this is just an extra layer of paperwork, rather than an actual restriction on science, despite coming from vaunted luddite Lamar Smith.
  • While I'm all for accountability this bill reeks! Most "science" funding can not and should be not tied to "national interests", they should be tied to advancing the citizens of the society as a whole.

    Oh I can see it now!

    "Dear Leader,

    We, the poor and humble citizens are requesting a science project to defend ourselves against.. um.. Imperialism. This science will no doubt halt the enemies advances against your national interests, which is of course primarily the protection of us poor and humble servant

  • Oh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by znanue (2782675) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:52PM (#45350435)
    Seems kinda redundant doesn't it? Science should be considered naturally in the national interest.
  • Simple litmus test (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nickmalthus (972450) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:55PM (#45350497)
    If it kills, imprisons, or surveils it gets unfettered funding. We have priorities in America, land of the free, home of the brave!!!
  • by Skapare (16644) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @06:59PM (#45350573) Homepage

    ... should be required to justify their national interest.

  • reality check (Score:5, Informative)

    by gerardrj (207690) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:00PM (#45350583) Journal

    From their own web site, the "...NSF's FY 2014 budget request is $7.626 billion"

    $0,007.6 billon NSF budget. The Federal budget for 2014 is about $3.77 trillion (wikipedia) To put that on the same scale:
    $3,770.0 billion total US budget. So the NSF budget is (I think I did the math correctly) 0.2% of the total budget. Less than 1/4 of one percent!

    $3 billion is what the Navy is spending on a singe new Zumwalt destroyer (the next 4 in that fleet will cost $2.5B each) to fight nonexistent maritime enemies. That's two NSF budgets for ships that will do nothing but cost money to operate for the next 20 years.

    I think this is the religious right pushing to get the US Government to stop funding science that disproves their church teachings and bible scripture.

  • by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:00PM (#45350585)

    ...the purpose of this is to specifically eliminate uncomfortable research as not "in the national interest".

    Like what has been recently happening up in Canadia.

  • the Nazis and Communists made the same requirement: what is in it for the Party?

  • Obviously, every grant already supports "promotion of scientific progress". It seems the goal is to inject political influence into the decision making.

  • Because... (Score:5, Informative)

    by snaFu07 (1111263) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:11PM (#45350701)
    "One day sir, you may tax it."
    Faraday's reply to William Gladstone, then British Chancellor of the Exchequer (minister of finance), when asked of the practical value of electricity (1850), as quoted in The Harvest of a Quiet Eye : A Selection of Scientific Quotations (1977), p. 56 (wikiquote)
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:14PM (#45350745)

    Basic research is where the revolutionary new discoveries in science are. Applied research can only take what we have and improve on it. Certainly also relevant and necessary, but it does not move us ahead in any way that's even close to the leaps and bounds fundamental research can grant us.

    The main problem with basic research is simply that it takes quite a while to produce marketable results. That's a given. It's a long, long way from "hey, that's interesting" to "and here's our new thingamajig". Take lasers. The first, theoretical, research for lasers was done as early as 1917, and it took way into the 50s for the first halfway decent models to come into existence, far from commercially interesting or marketable. Mostly a "toy" for scientists, too expensive to build and operate and way to unstable and unreliable. But things evolved, and today we have BluRay and laser cutters, whole industries that live and die by the very existence of that product.

    Now, I can hear someone butt in and say that of course if we need some technology, someone will develop it. We need a way to store sound and (moving) pictures, we need a way to store data, so it will come into existence. That's right. It will. But nobody, at least nobody who bothers to invest money, will look at alternative, better, ways to do it. What will happen is that the old and tried ways get improved. So today we'd probably have perfectly error correcting Victrolas, playing shellac records and removing even the tiniest bit of crackling and noise in post processing before sending it to the speaker instead of CDs that simply eliminated that problem by moving from analogue to digital data storage. We'd also probably still have core memory, of course a lot smaller and faster than back in the 50s, but without the advent of the microchip and research in semiconductors, we'd still be at radio tubes heating up our rooms. Of course, the tubes would get smaller and their power consumption lower with time, but the technology itself would stay the same.

    Well, much like we actually have now, we just do the very same crap one step up. Essentially, concerning the underlying technology, the latest intel chip is not different in any way from an old 80x86. Yes, it's smaller, it uses lower voltage, thus it can work faster and whatnot, but in the end, it is the same technology.

    Without basic research that opens up a new way, we can only get so far. Of course once the way is shown applied research has to improve and polish, but you can only improve so far. At some point, you have reached what's possible. And then you have to look for other ways.

    And with a lot of our tech we ARE at the point where further polishing won't do us much good.

  • Maybe it'll improve scientists' ability to explain their work to the layperson? That is, allowing a loose interpretation of 'explain', working your way through 'dumb down' all the way to 'tell/make up an engaging story'.
    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      Maybe it'll improve scientists' ability to explain their work to the layperson? That is, allowing a loose interpretation of 'explain', working your way through 'dumb down' all the way to 'tell/make up an engaging story'.

      I seldom have trouble understanding any scientist's explanations. But the idea of trying to explain science to a person who hates scientists, or finds Kim Kardashian or Miley Cyrus as an important interest in life - well, that's a really tall order.

  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @07:35PM (#45350951)
    behind the madness?

    The base is in large part creationist, and this would allow them to try to put the stops to any biological research. Which biological research is like a punch in the face to their faith.

  • How on earth would you define something so vague as "the national interest"?

    So presumably the national interest is whatever the Republican/Democrat party say it is. Fine. But don't bullshit everyone with some fanciful semantic spook like a "national interest".

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @11:36PM (#45352741) Homepage Journal

    The last thing we want is to have the jackoffs in Congress deciding what scientific research gets funded and which doesn't based upon their idea of "national interest".

    The first thing that will go is any biological research that uses evolution anywhere in it's foundation. Genetic research will be denied as being "un-Christian". Space research will be denied because the Earth is the center of the Universe. Geological research will be denied because everybody knows the Earth is only 6000 years old. Every published paper will have to start with the words, "In Jesus' name..."

    Why not just get rid of the peer review process and let Congress decide which papers are worthy of being published.

    Personally, I'd rather see every American with a PhD given a check for $500,000 and then just stand back. And I don't say that just because I happen to have a PhD and would probably use it to buy a sweet gaming rig and an Oculus Rift, either. Even at a half-mil per PhD, it would probably cost less than we've spent fighting idiotic wars and at least it would stimulate the economy.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @02:21AM (#45353513) Journal

    Now that my post title earns me a +1 "slashdot loves it", perhaps people will consider this:

    *Perhaps* when your country is $trillions$ in debt, one should strongly consider carefully justifying every single program - NSF included - for its expected value and relevance to the national interest.

    Lest someone believe I'm being tendentious here, I fully agree that this same metric SHOULD be applied to the bullshit military programs (cancel the LCS - both versions are equally stupid - instantly, for example) as well.

    Perhaps EVERY dollar the government spends (you know, since it was taken from some taxpayer at the barrel of a proverbial gun) should be vetted carefully, including congressional haircuts and other benefits. Here's an idea: for every year since congress last passed a budget (you know, their fundamental job) we simply refuse to pay their pensions?

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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