Rand Paul wants to save tax dollars, getting scientific types unwound

Good afternoon, Gramps here,

Did you know that the US government, through the National Science Foundation (NSF), spent $30,000 of yours and mine hard earned tax dollars to study the gambling habits of people in Uganda?

Rand Paul/Twitter

If your like me you must be asking why?

There is a lot of scientific research being performed in the US, all you have to do is look at the website, EurekAlert to see how much is published daily, here and abroad. Much of this US research is funded by the US government.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, not a novice at science, introduced a bill last week called the BASIC Research Act (S.1973), which has some people in the scientific community who make a living on these grants in an uproar as this would overhaul how Federal research grants are reviewed and how funding is distributed.

Paul notes in a hearing titled “Broken Beakers”, “I’m concerned that the government system of supporting research is inefficient and often incentives the wrong things that often leads to bad science and wasted taxpayer dollars.”

How the funding to be reviewed is most dramatic–bill proposes that the panel must include the following two reviewers:

(1) at least one individual who is not professionally affiliated with any academic or research institution, has not been professionally affiliated in the 10 years preceding the date of inclusion on the panel, and is an expert in a field unrelated to the field of research under which the grant proposal was submitted; and

(2) at least one individual who shall serve primarily as a ‘‘taxpayer advocate’’ (defined as someone whose main focus is on the value proposed research delivers to the taxpayer).

Jeremiah Traeger at Patheos writes:

These are problematic for a variety of reasons. The most obvious point is that having two non-experts on the panel is entirely counterproductive to trying to decide whether research is worth funding or not. Even though the first individual required would still presumably be a scientist who is ostensibly interested in good-faith efforts to award funding to deserving proposals, his non-expertise would be entirely unhelpful.

The second reviewer proposed is clearly even worse. It has all the problems of the first reviewer, does not require them to have any sort of scientific expertise whatsoever, and shifts the focus to what benefits the taxpayer, rather than the viability and novelty of the science being discovered. This has many unfortunate implications. First of all, it vastly shifts the priority away from a lot of fundamental, natural sciences that don’t appear to have any immediate benefit (unless this taxpayer benefit includes the future human race travelling to another star system within a few centuries, which I don’t think is a high priority for these panelists).

He goes on: Would this panelist see any taxpayer benefit in the recent Neutron Star Collision? Or the recent discovery of half of the universes’ missing regular matter?

Maybe, maybe not. I would venture to guess this is not what Dr Paul has in mind. Maybe he’s looking at such wonderful uses of limited resources like other NSF grants like studying the demographics of Wikipedia users at $70,000 or What did Neil Armstrong actually say on the moon? for a paltry $700,000.

Or the most ironic study- A study to see if the federal government paying for studies actually produces better studies.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of important work being done…no question; however, the country is broke and there is not this magical money tree in Washington (unless you count the Fed) and the tax dollars of hard working Americans deserve an advocate. Not just the people “in the know” spending someone else’s money.

If the researchers that wanted to learn if smiling in a selfie actually makes you happier (yes this was paid for by a half million dollars), let them find a private organization or individual to fund it.

Believe me, if someone thinks there is true value, they will shell out the money.

Jeffrey Mervis at Science does point out:

The prospects for Paul’s legislation are unclear. A Libertarian often at odds with the leadership of his own party, Paul is not known as an alliance builder, and so far his bill has no co-sponsors. At the same time, most proposed legislation never even gets a hearing, so Paul at least has cleared that hurdle.

Grandpa Ernie’s Notebook




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- Grandpa Ernie likes to write commentary in between naps.

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