White House Vigorously Defends Science Against Congressional Attacks

May 3, 2013

WASHINGTON -- The White House science adviser criticized Republican efforts to curtail science spending that does not have a direct link to national interests and gave a spirited endorsement of the importance of political science and social science research and of peer review in a speech at a scientific conference here Thursday.

In remarks at the science policy forum of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, made a series of points related to Congress's vote last month to bar National Science Foundation funding for political science research for the 2013 fiscal year and, last week, a leading Republican lawmaker's personal questioning of the validity of specific social science projects financed by the foundation.

"First, the social and behavioral sciences -- which of course include economics, sociology, psychology, and anthropology, as well as political science -- are sciences. Researchers in these fields develop and test hypotheses; they publish results in peer-reviewed journals; and they archive data so that others can replicate their results," Holdren said. And while much of it is basic research, studies in the social sciences strengthen foreign policy and make hurricane warnings more effective, among other public policy objectives.

No scientific research should be judged based purely on its ability to serve national interests, since it is impossible to know which studies -- basic, applied, in physical sciences or social sciences -- will produce the laser or spur the next Google. 

"No system of deciding what research the federal government should fund will succeed perfectly, whatever the standard of perfection," Holdren added. "But the overall degree of success of the competitive, peer-reviewed grant process that is employed by the NSF, the NIH, and in much of the rest of the government’s R&D funding -- success measured by the pace of advance in basic science and the pace of the applied breakthroughs -- has made that peer-review-based process the gold standard, recognized around the world."

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