Top US scientists warn against ‘clear-cutting’ research programs

As US policymakers debate cutting science spending, more than 140 scientific societies and universities have joined forces to urge US policymakers not to cut out entire programs.

Nor, it says, should they bypass independent peer review processes and be swayed instead by populism.

The letter, sent to key lawmakers who are preparing to debate the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, says that eliminating specific grants or entire scientific disciplines sets a dangerous precedent thatcould inhibit scientific progress and international competitiveness.

“Everyone understands that legislators face tremendous challenges related to the deficit and the national economy,” says Joanne Carney, director of the Office of Government Relations at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“But recently, selected research areas have been unfairly trivialized based on misinformation intended to challenge the scientific review process.”

Carney’s referring to recent comments from, amongst others, Senator Tom Coburn, who in May published a report claiming that the National Science Foundation had wasted millions on useless research.

But, says the AAAS, many seemingly-odd interdisciplinary projects are essential to scientific progress and innovation.

It cites the multi-billion dollar Geographical Information Systems (GIS) industry, which resulted from National Science Foundation (NSF) research – and which now routinely supports effective disaster-response efforts in the wake of events such as the September 11, 2011 attacks in New York City.

“Simply put, we need all scientists and scientific disciplines working—alone and together—to advance our knowledge base,” the group concludes.

“Allocating federal investments competitively through scientific merit review is the very process that has led this country to be a world leader in science.”

The letter was supported by AAAS and an array of other top professional societies, including the Association of American Universities (AAU), the American Chemical Society, the American Economic Association, and the American Physical Society, among many others.

University signatories are based in California, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and elsewhere.