Lawrence Krauss, CFI Urge Chair of House Science Committee to Protect Scientific Inquiry

May 16, 2013

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) on Thursday submitted a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), calling his draft legislative proposal altering the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) peer review system "both unnecessary and potentially harmful to science research supported by the United States government."

The letter was signed by Lawrence Krauss, Foundation Professor at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, and an Honorary Board Member at the Center for Inquiry; Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI's President and CEO; and Michael De Dora, director of CFI's Office of Public Policy.

The draft bill (PDF) proposed by Rep. Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, would require the NSF director to certify that a research project meet three new criteria before awarding a grant. It must advance national health, prosperity, welfare, or defense; it must be "groundbreaking" and answer questions or solve problems of the utmost importance; and it must not be duplicative of other government-funded research projects. It also suggests these requirements be considered for all federal science agencies.

CFI’s letter reads, in part:

"These requirements represent a serious misunderstanding of the nature of scientific inquiry and discovery and, if approved, would not facilitate, but instead obstruct productive scientific research.

The NSF’s current process for reviewing applications for contract or grant funding is based on the time-honored and scientifically sound principle of peer review. Under current NSF procedures, a group of independent experts with specialized knowledge in a field of specific scientific endeavor evaluates requests based on two main criteria: intellectual merit and societal impact.

Your bill would not improve this process, which is widely considered to be one of the most successful science funding processes in the world and which has placed our nation at the forefront of scientific advances; instead, it would burden this process with standards that politicize science and fail to give proper weight to the importance of basic scientific research."

Given the risk this draft bill poses to scientific research, Krauss and the authors urge Rep. Smith to scrap his proposal.

You can download CFI's full letter here (PDF).

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