Letter in Support of NSF's Merit Review Process and Research Portfolio

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Publication date: 
23 May 2013

“It is imperative that NSF’s system of support for basic research be based upon excellence, competitive scientific merit, and peer-review.”  So states a letter sent to the members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation regarding the merit review process and research portfolio of the National Science Foundation. 

The letter was sent by the Coalition for National Science Funding which advocates for NSF.  It cautions against changing the criterion for awarding grants, highlights the importance of the research supported by the foundation, and urges making the funding of basic research in all NSF-supported disciplines a national priority.  A list of nine issues of FYI regarding these concerns is below.

One hundred and ten organizations signed this letter, including the American Institute of Physics and six of its Member Societies: American Association of Physics Teachers; American Astronomical Society; American Geophysical Union; American Physical Society; AVS – Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing; and The Optical Society.

The text of this May 20 letter follows:

“The undersigned organizations are concerned about recent Congressional actions that call into question the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) merit review process for awarding research grants. NSF’s merit review process relies upon the expertise of leading scientists and engineers, and it has a proven track record in supporting outstanding, fundamental research across all disciplines of science and engineering. Indeed, NSF’s expert merit review process is a model for identifying research projects that are worthy of taxpayer-funded support and have the best opportunity to advance science and innovation. If the criterion for awarding grants shifts away from scientific merit as the primary goal, the quality of research proposals will suffer, as will the science and engineering that is ultimately funded. This would have negative impacts on our nation’s entire research and innovation enterprise.

“Research and education projects supported by NSF contribute to the development of the knowledge base needed for pushing the frontiers of the biological, mathematical, physical, geo, computer, social, behavioral, and economic sciences, and engineering. NSF support is also critical to scientific and engineering advancements requiring interdisciplinary collaboration where insights from one field inform questions posed in another and tools that are developed by one discipline are used to conduct experiments in another. The NSF merit review system has a tradition of identifying the research that will enhance the knowledge base of these fields and interdisciplinary exploration.

“Funding basic research in all NSF-supported disciplines should be a national priority. Support of this goal should not force significant and potentially detrimental tradeoffs between one field of science and another. In creating NSF, Congress removed its political influence from the evaluation and selection process for awarding research grants, establishing a peer-review process to determine the best candidates for research funding. While past Congresses and administrations have at times identified areas of science for funding emphasis at NSF such as in nanotechnology, robotics, information technology, and cybersecurity, they have prudently and appropriately allowed these research areas to be informed by priorities set by the National Science Board and other national scientific advisory committees and to be guided by the science community through a strong system of merit review.

“It is imperative that NSF’s system of support for basic research be based upon excellence, competitive scientific merit, and peer-review. While Congress does play an important role in oversight of federally funded research, it should avoid legislative attempts that could undermine a decades-long system of success and ultimately impede discovery and innovation.”


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