Chairman Smith’s response to the November 10 statement(PDF) by the AAU Board of Directors regarding the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s inquiries into individual National Science Foundation research grants does not address the larger issues raised by that statement about damage done to NSF and the merit review process. Instead it focuses on one question of fact.
To be clear, the AAU Board statement is factual.
The series of communications between the Committee and NSF(PDF), beginning with an April 2013 Committee request for complete information about five research grants and continuing through a May 2014 request for “every e-mail, letter, memorandum, record, note, text message, all peer reviews considered for selection and recommendations made to the National Science Foundation (NSF), or document of any kind that pertains to NSF’s consideration and grant approvals,” makes evident that the requested materials would have included the names of outside scientific reviewers. Moreover, it is abundantly clear that NSF was deeply concerned about the Committee’s requests for this information and their impact on confidentiality and on the willingness of reviewers to participate in the merit review process.
We are pleased that the Committee backed off its initial all-encompassing requests for information. However, there can be little doubt as to the impact of all these requests on NSF and the scientific community.
We hope the Committee will focus on the larger issues raised by the AAU Board – that Committee members are “substituting their judgment for the expertise of scientists on the vital question of what research the United States should support,” and that the Committee’s inquiry “is having a destructive effect on NSF and on the merit review process that is designed to fund the best research and to remove those decisions from the political process.”