May 15, 2017

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK! $697,177 for a ‘Climate-Change Musical’: You Call That Science?

The [National Science Foundation], whose mission is to ensure U.S. leadership in areas of science and technology that are essential to economic growth and national security, frequently funds politically correct but low-value research projects. A few doozies include the veiling-fashion industry in Turkey, Viking textiles in Iceland, the “social impacts” of tourism in the northern tip of Norway, and whether hunger causes couples to fight (using the number of pins stuck in voodoo dolls as a measure of aggressive feelings). Research funding in the geosciences, including climate change, is certainly legitimate, but not when it goes to ludicrous boondoggles such as a climate-change musical that cost $697,177 to produce.

The primary culprit is the NSF’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, known as SBE. Underlying its ability to dispense grants is the wrongheaded notion that social-science projects such as a study of animal depictions in National Geographic and a climate change musical are as important as research to identify early markers for Alzheimer’s disease or pancreatic cancer.

In January President Obama signed the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which accomplished little with respect to setting funding priorities other than endorsing the only two criteria NSF had previously used to evaluate grant applications—the “intellectual merit” of the proposal and its “broader impacts” on society. The bill’s lead proponent, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, had wanted to include a “national interest” criterion defined by several factors including improving economic competitiveness, health, national security, the STEM workforce and scientific literacy.

In the end the national interest standard was retained, but only to provide examples of how grant applicants can satisfy NSF’s “broader impacts” requirement. In other words, SBE will continue funding marginal research by social scientists—what a former NSF official characterized as “the inmates running the asylum.”

It’s an intellectually pretentious New Deal-type make-work program for progressives.

Zero out its budget and shut it down.