Keep politics out of science

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Science saves lives, informs how we manage valuable resources, and provides the basis for much of what we buy when we go holiday shopping. Using project titles and short public abstracts, Representative Adrian Smith of Nebraska recently criticized the National Science Foundation for funding several research projects. Furthermore, he suggests that politicians and the general public should be involved in using limited information to inform funding decisions. The National Science Foundation uses a highly competitive peer review process to evaluate proposals. Funding rates are typically quite low, dropping below 5 percent in some programs. Consequently only extremely good projects get funded and many deserving projects go unfunded. Do some of those projects have funny titles or is the relevance of some of the projects hard to understand based on a quick review? Yes, but, the overwhelming criterion for receiving a grant is the value of the work, not the marketability of the project’s title. There is a current push in our nation’s capital to eliminate earmarks. That push is largely motivated by a desire to see projects funded on their merit, as decided by experts, and not on the basis of who sits on a congressional committee. This is a noteworthy trend, and one that follows the successful approach the National Science Foundation and other federal science agencies have relied on for decades and that has helped generate advances that improve our lives. Let’s stick with success and stay away from politicizing science. Nicole McCarthy, Folsom