Interesting times for science in the US

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Interesting times for science in the US

Postby BioWizard on October 20th, 2017, 4:10 pm 

Thoughts?

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/ ... iew-panels
Senate Republicans have launched a new attack on peer review by proposing changes to how the U.S. government funds basic research.

New legislation introduced this week by Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) would fundamentally alter how grant proposals are reviewed at every federal agency by adding public members with no expertise in the research being vetted. The bill (S.1973) would eliminate the current in-house watchdog office within the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Alexandria, Virginia, and replace it with an entity that would randomly examine proposals chosen for funding to make sure the research will “deliver value to the taxpayer.” The legislation also calls for all federal grant applications to be made public.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby zetreque on October 20th, 2017, 7:56 pm 

Insanity!

No cosponsors right from the start so that's good.

This is why it's so important to elect intelligent people into government.
https://secure.314action.org/page/s/help-elect-a-scientist
6,000 scientists and STEM leaders have reached out to 314 Action wanting help running for office. And with your support, we’re helping as many as we can launch campaigns.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby zetreque on October 20th, 2017, 9:28 pm 

The thing that is insane is that there is no specifics here.

He keeps calling that there is bizarre stuff and bizarre names but look at some of the republican bills introduced that have a title that is the opposite of what it's purpose is. For example a bill I saw the other day that was something like the American Hearing Protection Act and what it did was make it legal to buy silencers for guns as if that many people are loosing their hearing living next to shooting ranges. How is that not bizarre? Politicians know how to play these games, but they don't know how to do science.

Some of the stuff he says shouldn't be going on sounds logical. You certainly want to get conflicts of interest out, so why are they defunding/eliminating the ethics department that Obama created? Talk about Bizarre, look at the stereotypical republican and their hypocrisy.

I would like to see a more detailed plan on how they want to take out conflicts of interest rather than this vague bill. Which brings up another point. Republicans often have a problem with the EPA because of it's vague wording and interpretation through the judicial branch. They want to eliminate the chevron 3 step. They want very specific environmental language and laws in a world where there are complex systems and thresholds. This would be disastrous. But as soon as it's something they want, they have no problem being vague.

Another puzzling thing is what Pruitt just did.

https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/administrator-pruitt-issues-directive-end-epa-sue-settle
Administrator Pruitt Issues Directive to End EPA "Sue & Settle"

What I do not understand is how he can just sign a directive and gain immunity from being sued.
Here is another article about it.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidblackmon/2013/05/27/the-sue-and-settle-racket/#45a27b8683ca

Another topic that can be politically twisted to sound good but isn't under the hood. I have personally experienced and taken environmental law classes where public comment does absolutely nothing. 95% of the public can be against something but government will go ahead and do it anyway. So while Pruitt tries to make it sound good like they are creating transparency really just takes away people's ability to fight for protections and put a check on unlimited and uncontrolled growth.

Both of these moves are just to take off less restrictions on uncontrolled growth and open up loop holes for corporate powers to sneak in and get what they want, fund what they want, develop what they want.

Like the specifics I want to see is who is the independent party that have a voice in who gets funded? Maybe someone who has more time can read the actual bill.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-con ... %5D%7D&r=1

If we leave it to the tax payers, for all we know, we end up throwing 50 million into developing Pokemon Go.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby Forest_Dump on October 20th, 2017, 10:04 pm 

Sadly this does seem like it would be a bait and switch. As someone who is strongly in favour of the kind of pure science that really means a well-trained scientist going out to find some answers to questions of pure interest, this kind of move COULD be good as it COULD lead to more science being directed towards questions about space, dinosaurs, etc., that have a real public interest angle. I think too much has been lost in these kinds of directions because too much "science" has actually ended up being tax-payer paid R and D for the corporate sector (which, of course, includes military). More transparency from public scrutiny could cut back on some of that i.e. all tax-payer funded research must either be fully accessible to the public (i.e. not held as proprietary knowledge by a private firm) or not given to private sector firms (in the case of weapons research, etc.). Clearly some details would need to be worked out. However, while these seem like potentially good directions, there is also the danger that members of the public or at least those chosen would actually NOT be unbiased but might reflect religious, political or other ideological groups wanting to curtail specific areas such as anything evolutionary, anything about climate change, abortion, stem cell research, vaccinations, alternate energy, etc.

Bottom line, there have been a number of issues where I actually thought Trump just might have a good or interesting idea or opinion (i,e, I was previously against free-trade and NAFTA) only to find Trump screwed it up so royally that I have since changed my opinion. I fail to see how he couldn't bugger this up.
Last edited by Forest_Dump on October 20th, 2017, 10:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby zetreque on October 20th, 2017, 10:07 pm 

Forest_Dump » Fri Oct 20, 2017 6:04 pm wrote: there is also the danger that members of the public or at least those chosen would actually NOT be unbiased but might reflect religious, political or other ideological groups wanting to curtail specific areas such as anything evolutionary, anything about climate change, abortion, stem cell research, vaccinations, alternate energy, etc.


That's the likely hidden motive I wonder about.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby Forest_Dump on October 20th, 2017, 10:44 pm 

zetreque wrote:That's the likely hidden motive I wonder about.


Oh I get what you are thinking and agree somewhat. The only place I differ is I still am not convinced Trump is smart enough to have a hidden motive. But if he did (I don't overlook his history with Bannon and Alex Jones, etc.), I certainly know he would be incapable of preventing it from being corrupted either unknowingly through political incompetence or as a bargaining chip.

But there is still some possible good sides to the idea. I think it is helpful to keep a broader public interest/education in mind when it comes to science and particularly publicly funded research. As I said, there has long been a problem of science being given over to corporate purposes rather than any kind of public interest. Plus I am far from convinced that scientists are any less prone to their own ideological biases, sense of entitlements, parochial politics and sense of entitlement, etc. and definitely don't serve the people that fund them, etc. So like I said, while I personally would never trust Trump (or frankly the GOP) with such a task, I can definitely see some value in the idea.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby zetreque on October 20th, 2017, 10:50 pm 

Forest_Dump » Fri Oct 20, 2017 6:44 pm wrote: The only place I differ is I still am not convinced Trump is smart enough to have a hidden motive.


I agree. I never said he was smart or there was any conspiracy. I think these people genuinely believe they are doing good. They just have no comprehension of what good is. I call him President Chump for a reason ever since I read the article about the Russian Laundromat.

I also agree with everything else you said, however I think that there are others who do have a hidden agenda to support their anti-science, pro-development, pro capitalism money making views. And those people are writing or behind writing these bills. I wouldn't be surprised if a corporation was behind hiring someone to write this bill or similar ones and then put it on Rand Paul's desk. I have a friend who is a politician and hardcore dogooder. Has been featured as a keynote speaker to sustainability conferences, etc. He has encountered this kind of corruption first hand and even he is afraid of going further in politics because of having to deal with it.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby wolfhnd on October 20th, 2017, 11:58 pm 

A proposal for oversight of how tax dollars are allocated has little to do with what most people think of as peer review. Conflating the system that assures that research papers are vetted with normal government administration is troubling if that is what the article is trying to do.

One thing that is clear is that the U.S. government lacks transparency. I would start with better oversight of the NSA and CIA not science funding if I was looking for groups who's self policing is questionable and who insist they are the only ones who can evaluate their expenditures. That is the problem every agency or government funded group claims they are the only people qualified to evaluate their funding.

I wouldn't trust Rand Paul to evaluate science funding but I also wouldn't trust the recipients.
There is a pattern to this problem and it's roots lie in congress shirking it's responsibilities. Congress has unconstitutionally increased the power of the executive branch by essentially allowing government agencies to write law by way of the code of federal regulations for decades.
Congress also transferred most of it's currency regulation responsibility to the federal reserve.

The real question is if oversight can be transferred. Congress can ask for expert testimony or require investigations but cannot transfer the responsibility for tax expenditures to "experts".
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby Braininvat on October 21st, 2017, 10:32 am 

Paul’s bill would transfer its authority—as well as its budget and staff—to a new Office of the Inspector General and Taxpayer Advocate for Research. Its job would be to comb through NSF’s portfolio of top-rated proposals and chose a “random” sample to determine “if the research will deliver value to the taxpayer.” The office would also have veto power; that is, no proposal that it finds wanting could be funded by NSF.



Note that "random" is in scare-quotes. This puts a little too much power in the hands of someone who has probably been placed there by a political partisan who may think pure research (the stuff that sounds silly to the untrained ear, but turns out to be a catalyst for some great advance in human knowledge) is a big waste of time and money.

As for the present option that researchers have to recommend who is on their review panel, sure, this could be abused, but it also relates to having a review from people who actually understand what you are doing in a highly specialized field. What if you are studying subduction zones in plate tectonics, and your reviewers don't fathom (NPI) how that might improve our prediction of earthquakes? Or lead to advances in geothermal power technology? Or helps pinpoint deeper deposits of valuable minerals?

Panels need people with insight and imagination, not bureaucrats.
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Re: Interesting times for science in the US

Postby zetreque on October 21st, 2017, 10:56 am 

Braininvat » Sat Oct 21, 2017 6:32 am wrote:

As for the present option that researchers have to recommend who is on their review panel, sure, this could be abused, but it also relates to having a review from people who actually understand what you are doing in a highly specialized field. What if you are studying subduction zones in plate tectonics, and your reviewers don't fathom (NPI) how that might improve our prediction of earthquakes? Or lead to advances in geothermal power technology? Or helps pinpoint deeper deposits of valuable minerals?

Panels need people with insight and imagination, not bureaucrats.


As someone who is applying for an NSF grant this year and spent the past month working for someone who is applying for one, there is truth here.

The peer review process, even if you get to recommend people is filled with conflict and disagreement. When I started working in this field I was shocked by how much conflict and politics there are. I didn't expect it. The system already seems to have checks and balances built in.

The two examples I am talking about have no control over who reviews your paper. And one ended up being a multi-million dollar grant.
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