Ok, so the title is a bit over the top, but Republican Lamar Smith is certainly eroding the peer-review process at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which serves as the model for almost all science review. Tim McDonnell at Slate summarizes how Smith, the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is investigating the NSF review and grant process (the Slate story also links to a great article in Science about the same topic). It is a bit disgusting that Lamar Smith and his investigative team, think they are better judges of what science is worthy for NSF funding than the expert scientists who initially reviewed the grant applications. This is highlighted in the amazing written correspondence between Smith and NSF Director France Córdova that is linked in the Slate article (definitely worth a read). Or as McDonnell writes:
The letters over the past few months between Smith and NSF Director France Córdova, an astrophysicist and former president of Purdue University, are a great new entry in the annals of government scientists explaining Science 101 to Republican congressmen.
This is a horrifying turn of events for government funded science. And McDonnell hits the nail on the head with his conclusion.
In other words, basic science shouldn’t be judged by how closely it hews to a predetermined, profitable advance. The Large Hadron Collider probably isn’t ever going to do much for the U.S. economy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in the “national interest” for us to understand the basic physics of the universe. Sometimes, even research on the mechanics of corkscrew-shaped duck penises can be a worthy investment of taxpayer dollars.