In a letter to House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and over 70 other organizations urged lawmakers to protect the integrity of the scientific enterprise and to continue to allow NSF to evaluate and fund research proposals in all disciplines, based on scientific merit review, which is "the very process that has led this country to be the world leader in science."
NSF's purview must extend to research in the social science and behavioral sciences, the letter argued. Smith recently acknowledged the importance of these disciplines, in a hearing on methamphetamine addiction, when he noted that the National Science Foundation (NSF) "…will play an integral role towards a more complete understanding of this problem. [S]ocial science research can be used to understand the behavior science behind addiction."
However, in a USA Today editorial, Smith and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) singled out individual grants for research in the social, behavioral and economic sciences as "questionable" and suggested they were not worthy of federal funding.
"Therefore, we wish to express our united support for the federal research and development budget of the NSF and its mission to advance research across a broad spectrum of disciplines. NSF is unique among federal agencies in that it supports all disciplines in a balanced portfolio that uses the peer review system to ensure that research grant awards are based on merit," the groups wrote in the letter.
Research in the social and behavioral sciences has helped experts respond to disasters, enhance intelligence analysis; and understand decision-making and its impact on public health and business investments. NSF is currently funding research to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields; to estimate the economic return from research and development spending; and to analyze how people respond during massive evacuations during extreme weather events, among other topics.
"We recognize the challenge that our nation faces in addressing the deficit and revitalizing our national economy, and we understand that Congress must exercise its oversight responsibilities. Our nation's leaders, however, should never allow politics to interfere negatively with the scientific process," said the letter, which was sent on 16 October.
In the coming weeks the committee is expected to take up draft legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act (America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science), which sets funding targets for STEM education and the research and development budgets for the National Science Foundation, NIST, and DOE's Office of Science.