I just came across this video, in which Republican House science committee member Adrian Smith of Nebraska calls upon the public to sift through government research grants to identify waste:
And here’s part of the text that accompanies the video:
NSF makes more than 10,000 new grant awards annually, many of these grants fund worthy research in the hard sciences. Recently, however NSF has funded some more questionable projects – $750,000 to develop computer models to analyze the on-field contributions of soccer players and $1.2 million to model the sound of objects breaking for use by the video game industry. Help us identify grants that are wasteful or that you don’t think are a good use of taxpayer dollars.
So here’s the problem. These scientific grants are peer reviewed. You can look at them in an offhand way and decide that hey, they involve soccer or video games, and therefore infer that they’re stupid and wasteful–but that’s not a fair way of going about it. Just because research involves these subjects doesn’t mean it’s not scientifically meritorious.
Let’s look at some of the research in question, and see if it really is so silly. The first grant, concerning “soccer”? As Live Science explains:
LiveScience did some digging and found that the money went to Northwestern University engineering professor Luis Amaral, who has created models to rank soccer player success. But the work is more broadly applicable to understanding the contributions of team members in any organization, including workplaces, the researchers wrote in a paper published in June in the open-access journal PLoS One. Amaral also researches other complex systems like the stock market and ecosystems, as well as the impact of scientific research and the performance of individual scientists and institutions.
And the second grant, concerning “video games”? It appears to be this Cornell research, which of course was also deemed meritorious by peer review:
Computational physics can help us animate crashing rigid and deformable bodies, or fracturing solids, or splashing water, but the results are silent movies. Virtually no practical algorithms exist for synthesizing synchronized sounds automatically. Instead, sound recordings are edited manually for pre-produced animations or triggered automatically in interactive settings. The former is labor intensive and inflexible, while the latter produces awkward, repetitive results. This situation is a serious obstacle to building realistic, interactive simulations (whether for entertainment, training, or other applications), which require sound to be compelling,. In this research the PIs will begin filling this broad void by pursuing fundamental advances in computational methods while solving several particularly challenging sound rendering problems. The goal is to produce some of the first viable methods in this area, upon which many more can be built. Successful implementation of this program will fundamentally transform our relationship with our increasingly convincing simulated realities, because for the first time we will be able to hear them as well as see them. To these ends, the PIs will develop fundamental algorithms that address the problems of simulating the vibrations that cause sound and computing the sound field produced by those vibrations….
This latter research, to me, sounds very much like just the kind of basic science that can trigger technological innovations that will, in turn, create jobs. Isn’t that what we want the government funding?
More generally, why does Rep. Smith think that this approach–let’s call it the “citizens Googling” method–is a good way of evaluating research grants, as opposed to the merit-based peer review system?
Links to this Post
- Tweets that mention Citizens Against Peer Review | The Intersection | Discover Magazine -- Topsy.com | December 3, 2010
- Eric Cantor Wants Our Grandmas to Decide Science Funding | It's Okay To Be Smart | December 3, 2010
- Citizen-Googling? You Can’t Be Serious. | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | December 4, 2010
- Citizen-Googling? You Can’t Be Serious. | The Intersection | December 5, 2010
- Citizen-Googling? You Can’t Be Serious. | The Intersection | From Shack To Mansion | December 5, 2010
- Sunday/Monday blogs round-up - 05/06 December 2010 - blog by Gurdur - Blogs on the Heathen Hub | December 5, 2010
- Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock | December 5, 2010
- USA Today on “Citizen Googling” and NSF | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | December 6, 2010
- Don’t YouCut The Sciences « Synergy Of Thought | December 7, 2010
- A Completely Unofficial Blog About Eric Cantor » Republican Congressmen Crowdsource an Attack on Science | December 8, 2010
- A Completely Unofficial Blog About Eric Cantor » Republican Congressmen Crowdsource Attack on Science | December 8, 2010
- Republican Congressmen Crowdsource Attack on Science | From Shack To Mansion | December 8, 2010