Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Two NSF Grants That Have Drawn Republican Scrutiny

Paul Baskin, Chronicle of Higher Education
December 8, 2014

The Republican leadership of the House science committee has repeatedly criticized the National Science Foundation’s research choices. In many cases, detailed examinations have shown that, while there may be partisan reasons underlying the complaints, the disputes are often marked by misunderstandings. Two examples concern projects involving the environment and mechanics.  Read more

What Do House Republicans Want From the NSF?

Paul Basken, Chronicle of Higher Education
December 8, 2014

Republicans leading the House science committee have spent much of the past two years ratcheting up the pressure on the National Science Foundation. They’ve sought information on several dozen grants awarded by the NSF. They’ve made increasingly strident attacks on some of its choices. And for several weeks now, committee representatives have been trekking out to NSF offices in Arlington, Va., to inspect grant paperwork.

The oversight campaign has left researchers worried that the committee is trying to impose partisan priorities on scientific processes. But a committee aide involved in the work said the panel’s escalating pressure could ease soon. All it would take, the aide said, is for the NSF to meet a demand made by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee’s chairman: that each new grant award include a brief summary explaining the project’s value.  "Immediately, it would change the nature of the dialogue," the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.  Read more

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Spending Down, Atlantic Philanthropies to Share Lessons Learned

Philanthropy News Digest
November 4, 2014
With $1 billion left to spend before it closes its doors in 2016, Atlantic Philanthropies is planning to award even larger grants and fellowships than it has in the past and to share the lessons it has learned in the process of giving away $7.5 billion over more than thirty years, the New York Times reports.  Read more

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

New Rules for Human-Subject Research Are Delayed and Debated

November 3, 2014
Christopher Shea, Chronicle of Higher Education

When I. Glenn Cohen, a professor at Harvard Law School and director of a bioethics center there, helped to organize a conference in 2012 about the future of research on human subjects, he says he worried about being "late to the party."
In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services had floated some ideas for changes in the rules governing such research. The aim was both to better protect the subjects and to reduce the much-resented bureaucratic burden on professors and university staff members.  Mr. Cohen needn’t have worried about tardiness. Today, more than two years after the conference, the regulations remain just where they were in 2011: still under development.  Read more

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Columbia U. to Pay $9-Million to Settle Federal Claims Over AIDS Grants

Andrew Mytelka, Chronicle of Higher Education 
October 29, 2014
Columbia University has admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay $9-million to settle a federal lawsuit accusing it of mismanaging federal grants for AIDS research, reports Capital, an online news service covering New York.

According to the office of the federal prosecutor that handled the case, the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, a unit of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, filed claims for reimbursement citing work that was not done. Columbia received millions of dollars under more than 75 federal grants to prevent AIDS and HIV, but it was required to track the work of employees and submit that tally in order to obtain the grant money.  Read more

Monday, October 27, 2014

NSF-Backed Scientists Raise Alarm Over Deepening Congressional Inquiry

Paul Basken, Chronicle of Higher Education
October 16, 2014

Two years into the latest round of attacks by Congressional Republicans on federally sponsored research, an escalating effort by the House science committee to find fault with the National Science Foundation is taking a growing toll on researchers.
NSF grants to some 50 professors across the country are now being investigated by the Republican-controlled committee. More than a dozen of the researchers, in comments to The Chronicle, said they had little idea what the politicians were seeking, but warned of a dangerous precedent in what they described as a witch hunt.  Read more

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Harvard University’s Climate Change Solutions Fund

HKS Research Administration Office
July 16, 2014 

Harvard University’s Climate Change Solutions Fund will begin accepting proposals from Harvard University faculty (and students with confirmed faculty mentors) that shape progress toward a sustainable future. Research proposals are encouraged from applicants in the sciences, as well as those who are experts in public policy, law, business, economics, and other relevant domains. For more information, please visit the kink below, and please see President Faust’s announcement letter about the program. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Important Notice to Presidents of Universities and Colleges and Heads of Other National Science Foundation Awardee Organizations: NSF Abstracts and Titles

Since the issuance of the December 11, 2013 Important Notice to the Community (IN-135) that announced our focus on transparency and accountability, we have developed and are now implementing an approach for addressing the two primary areas of the initiative.

1. The first is improving public understanding of our funding decisions through our award Abstracts and Titles

2. The second is ensuring that the broad areas of supported research (or portfolios) are aligned to the national interest, as defined by NSF’s mission, “…to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure the national defense…”

In this notice, I want to clarify the NSF policy on award Abstracts and Titles. We are acting to ensure that our award Abstracts and Titles clearly convey to the public justification for our actions.

Read more (pdf)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Excessive Regulations Turning Scientists into Bureaucrats

National Science Foundation
May 1, 2014

Excessive regulations are consuming scientists' time and wasting taxpayer dollars, says a report released today by the National Science Board (NSB), the policymaking body of the National Science Foundation and advisor to Congress and the President.

"Regulation and oversight of research are needed to ensure accountability, transparency and safety," said Arthur Bienenstock, chair of the NSB task force that examined the issue. "But excessive and ineffective requirements take scientists away from the bench unnecessarily and divert taxpayer dollars from research to superfluous grant administration. This is a real problem, particularly in the current budget climate."

Thousands of federally funded scientists responded to NSB's request to identify requirements they believe unnecessarily increase their administrative workload. The responses raised concerns related to financial management, grant proposal preparation, reporting, personnel management, and institutional review boards and animal care and use committees (IRBs and IACUCs).   Read more

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

NSF’s Board Fights Back Against Threat of Tighter Legislative Control

Paul Basken, Chronicle of Higher Education
April 24, 2014

The governing board of the National Science Foundation spoke out on Thursday against a Congressional proposal to limit its grant-writing authority, saying the changes would needlessly hinder scientific research.
The National Science Board, in a rare public response to a piece of pending legislation, said in a written statement that it saw no need for a plan to give Congress division-by-division authority over its budget allocations. In rejecting the idea, the board also promised stepped-up internal oversight of transparency and accountability processes at the NSF.
The dispute concerns a bill, known as the First Act, that would set policy rules and authorize two years of budget levels for the NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The House science committee is expected to vote soon on a version of the bill, after a subcommittee approved it last month.  Read more

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Don’t Rob the Social Sciences of Peer Review and Public Dollars

March 31, 2014
Editorial by Edward Liebow, Chronicle of Higher Education

Legislation making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives would significantly reduce National Science Foundation funds for the social sciences and interfere with the agency’s peer-­review process. The alarming proposal, known as the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act of 2014, or FIRST Act, threatens to dismantle social- and behavioral-science research in the United States.

Under the bill, Congress would, for the first time, fund each individual directorate in the NSF rather than the agency as a whole. As proposed, every directorate would see its budget increase or stay essentially flat, with the exception of the directorates for social, behavioral, and economic sciences and for international and integrative activities. Those directorates would experience a 25-percent and a 17-percent decrease, respectively.  

Read more

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science

William J. Broad, New York Times
March 19, 2014

American science, long a source of national power and pride, is increasingly becoming a private enterprise. In Washington, budget cuts have left the nation’s research complex reeling. Labs are closing. Scientists are being laid off. Projects are being put on the shelf, especially in the risky, freewheeling realm of basic research. Yet from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, science philanthropy is hot, as many of the richest Americans seek to reinvent themselves as patrons of social progress through science research. The result is a new calculus of influence and priorities that the scientific community views with a mix of gratitude and trepidation.  Read more

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

House GOP Allows Some Compromise in Bid to Focus NSF on Economic Value

March 13, 2014
Paul Basken, Chronicle of Higher Education

A Congressional panel on Thursday approved legislation that would flatten the budget of the National Science Foundation and revive past attempts to tie the agency’s spending on research to a definable economic payback.
The measure, a policy-setting bill for the NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, would give the NSF a budget in the 2015 fiscal year of $7.28-billion, about 1.5 percent beyond its current level of $7.17-billion. President Obama, in his 2015 budget proposed this month, suggested $7.3-billion, while House Democrats are seeking $7.52-billion.
Yet in a sign of future compromise before the bill reaches the Democratic-controlled Senate, the Republican majority on the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology accepted nine separate Democratic amendments, including a partial retreat from plans to severely cut the NSF’s budget for social-science research.  Read more

Monday, March 10, 2014

Federal Spending on Science, Already Down, Would Remain Tight

Paul Basken, Chronicle of Higher Education
March 5, 2014

The Obama administration, constrained by spending caps imposed by Congress, suggested on Tuesday a federal budget for 2015 that would mean another year of cuts in the government’s spending on basic scientific research.
The budget of the National Institutes of Health, the largest provider of basic research money to universities, would be $30.4-billion, an increase of just $200-million from the current year. After accounting for inflation, that would be a cut of about 1 percent.  Read more

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Researchers Resist Pressure to Show Impact of Their Work

February 9, 2014
Aisha Labi, Chronicle of Higher Education

A few years ago, Philip Moriarty, a professor of physics at the University of Nottingham, had had enough. Mr. Moriarty was a member of a peer-review body for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, one of the agencies in Britain that control the purse strings of academic research. In 2009 the council began to require that applicants for grants include a "pathways to impact" statement outlining the potential economic and societal effects of their work and who might benefit from it and how. The professor objected, and eventually he said he would no longer review applications. "I said it would be unconscionable to take part in the process," he says.
Mr. Moriarty is one of a growing chorus of British academics troubled by the extent to which publicly financed research is now required to demonstrate its economic impact and value to society and how that emphasis may steer the direction of research.   Read more

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Poli Sci Victory, For Now

Janaury 24, 2014
Michael Stratford, Inside Higher Ed

Supporters of social science breathed a sigh of relief last week when Congress effectively repealed strict limits on how the National Science Foundation could fund certain types of political science research.

The omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed and the President signed into law last week did not include the controversial provision that had, for more than nine months, restricted NSF funding for political science to only projects that directly promoted national security and U.S. economic interests.  Read more

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New Reforms to Federal Grant Policies

January 17, 2014

In February last year I blogged about the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s request for comments on proposed federal grant policy reforms. These policies, contained in multiple documents known as circulars, contain Fed-wide regulations on spending, not just for research grants. Many grantees and stakeholder organizations came forth and contributed comments. This information was taken into account by OMB to bring a number of these changes into fruition. The new guidance, “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards”, was announced by OMB in December as one consolidated omnicircular. Here are just a few highlights:   Read more

Monday, January 13, 2014

NRC Panel Seeks Rules Overhaul on Human-Subjects Studies

Paul Basken, Chronicle of Higher Education
January 10, 2014 

The long-snarled bid to revise federal rules governing research on human subjects got a boost on Thursday with a National Research Council analysis that endorsed a substantial overhaul. In a 139-page report, a 15-member panel assisted by dozens of field-specific experts, mostly from American universities, backed changes that include exempting many social-science researchers—such as those conducting oral histories—from the current set of rules.  Read more