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Agencies have duty to explain why tax dollars are funding questionable work

A recent article on the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act, a bill I sponsored that prioritizes research funding at the National Science Foundation, claims that the measure pits the interests of politicians against the scientists who select projects to fund through peer evaluations (“GOP pushes funding cuts for social science work,” Page A1, April 14). I disagree.

Politicians would play no role in choosing which specific grants are funded, and the First Act does not alter NSF’s peer review process. Bipartisan language in the bill explicitly states that “nothing in this section shall be construed as altering the foundation’s intellectual-merit or broader-impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”

China now has the world’s fastest supercomputer, a field in which the United States had always dominated. The center of global particle research has moved from the United States to Europe. At the same time, there has been a shift in priorities under the Obama administration away from the physical sciences and toward more taxpayer-funded social, behavioral, and economic research. The First Act would rebalance these priorities.

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We all believe in academic freedom for scientists, but federal research agencies have an obligation to explain to American taxpayers why their money is being used to fund questionable research instead of higher priorities, such as quantum computers, which could be the next generation of fast computers.

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The First Act actually funds NSF above the president’s request. To regain America’s scientific edge, the First Act adjusts priorities and makes targeted investments in federally supported research.

Representative

Lamar Smith

Republican of Texas

Washington

The writer is chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.