Here’s a post from David Bruggeman about a proposed bill.
The High Quality Research Act is a draft bill from Representative Lamar Smith, Chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Still not officially introduced, it has prompted a fair amount of teeth gnashing and garment rending over what it might mean. The bill would require the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to certify that the research it funds would: serve the national interests, be of the highest quality, and is not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the federal government. The bill would also prompt a study to see how such requirements could be implemented in other federal science agencies.
There’s a lot there to explore, including how the bill fits into recent inquiries about specific research grants made by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the NSF. (One nice place to check on this is the AmericanScience team blog.)
But what this bill has brought to my mind is that it brings the alleged tradeoff between research autonomy and research accountability into stronger relief (at least for those of us who research and analyze these things. The advocates are in combat mode). The goals of the bill – certifying that the research serves the national interests – could be interpreted as being contrary to the notions of blue sky or basic research. If the research must be linked to a national interest, how can it be done without concern for eventual applications?
My opinion…just the non-duplicative aspect would be powerful. Maybe there could be a small incentive for those who identify duplication? Because right now the only check seems to be the research panels, who often have not read the literature relevant to a specific proposal, and there is no mechanism for them to be aware of other government funded research in the area.
Just one example. You can check the NSF database here…just type in the topic you are interested in. I typed in “spruce beetle” and got a list..
This is the information for one study, and below, the abstract for one:
This collaborative research project will address the following questions about interactions between wildfire and spruce beetle outbreaks under varying climate and their consequences for ecosystem services: (1) How does climatic variation affect the initiation and spread of spruce beetle outbreaks across complex landscapes? (2) How does prior disturbance by windstorm, logging, and fire affect the subsequent occurrence and severity of spruce beetle outbreak? (3) In the context of a recently warmed climate, how do spruce beetle outbreaks affect forest structure and composition? (4) How do spruce beetle outbreaks affect fuels and potential wildfire activity under varying climatic conditions? (5) How will climate change and the climate-sensitive disturbances of wildfire and spruce beetle activity affect future ecosystem services in the subalpine zone of the southern Rocky Mountains under varying scenarios of adaptive forest management? The first four questions will be addressed through empirical research, including extensive tree-ring reconstructions of past disturbances, re-measurement of permanent forest plots, field measurements of effects of spruce beetle outbreaks on fuels, fire behavior modeling, and spatiotemporal analyses of the spread of recent spruce beetle outbreaks. The fifth question will be examined through simulation modeling of future forest conditions and their consequences for key selected ecosystem services, including biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and resilience to environmental change.
Not to pick on Kulakowski at Worcester, or even on NSF (which studies everything regardless of what other agencies study it, except perhaps NIH) but it makes me think that perhaps folks at the Forest Service and USGS around here are probably also studying some of these same topics?
It would be interesting to FOIA the peer review documents and see what the reviewers had to say about how this research fits in to ongoing federal research on the topic and how useful it will be. Because after all, there are not a lot of management choices…