NSF IN THE CROSSHAIRS
POST DATE December 2, 2010, 4 PM
POSTED BY Geoff Davis
The New York Times recently launched a crowdsourcing initiative to see how people would choose to balance the federal budget. The Times gave people the option to pick and choose from a collection of budget cutting measures that had been proposed by various committees and think tanks: The Simpson/Bowles deficit commission, the Cato Institute, the Sustainable Defense Task Force, etc. Savings for each of the initiatives were calculated by the Congressional Budget Office, the Tax Policy Center, and various economists. Overall, they presented people with a balanced, sanity checked set of choices and asked them to choose among them. It's been an interesting exercise with some results that have been surprising (at least to me).
The Republicans, perhaps inspired by the Times, have decided to undertake their own crowdsourced budget cutting project. Their initial phase involves having people identify "wasteful" NSF spending. Unlike the Times' project, this one is more of a free-for-all, with participants being egged on to attack specific projects.
If you search on the suggested terms, you come up with some surprising presumed targets.
A search for "success" yields as its first result a grant in support of UMBC's very successful program to increase minority participation in the sciences. Is this really the kind of thing we want to go after in budget cutting?
"culture" turns up lots of things on bacterial culture, but also a grant that looks at Latino youth learning and development and one that looks at free software development. Not being an sociologist, I can't speak to the value of the first grant, but in my own field, free software is incredibly important, and understanding the preconditions for successful open source projects is vital. There are few more cost-effective ways of supporting IT than encouraging more open source / free software development.
I have no idea what "media" is meant to turn up. Perhaps this grant on the ethics of synthetic biology? Given how potentially scary synthetic bio could turn out to be, thinking about ethics early seems like a wise move. Maybe this (awesome sounding!) grant in support of automated identification of emotional state? Seems like a great way to pinpoint potential terrorists in crowds or to have your computer respond to you in ways appropriate to your mood.
I challenge readers to figure out what specific grants Eric Cantor had in mind for the suggested search terms.
Look out, NSF grant recipients. Your fates may be about to be decided by the masses.