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Different Approaches

A markup session for a bill affecting the US National Science Foundation last week showcases differences between the two major US political parties, ScienceInsider reports.

The bill, HR4186, also called the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act would reauthorize educational and research programs at NSF and National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as increase oversight of federal science education efforts. It was being marked up by the research panel of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Democrats, ScienceInsider says, object to the bill's proposed changes to the NSF peer-review process and its reduction of funds for the agency's social science and geoscience research programs. An amendment offered by Democrats would have restored funds to those areas

Republicans, ScienceInsider adds, rejected Democrats' concerns and approved the bill on a party-line vote.

"The real significance of today's action, however, lay not in the actual votes," ScienceInsider notes. Instead, the meeting gave Republicans, particularly Representative Larry Bucshon (R-IN) who chairs the panel, an opportunity to say why "some NSF-supported disciplines are more important than others and why NSF needs to do a better job of spending tax dollars wisely," it adds.

Republicans, Bucshon says, are focusing on aspects of the natural and physical sciences that will spur new technologies and economic growth. The US, he adds, already leads in social science and geoscience research.

"Recent reports show that the United States is in danger of falling behind in technical R&D … and that China may overtake us in less than 10 years," Buschon says, adding "[i]f we are complacent, we will lose that competition, and our children and their children will have less."

Conversely, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) argues that all aspects of science need to be funded. "NSF is mandated to promote the progress of science, to advance the national welfare, and secure the national defense," she says, according to ScienceInsider, "and SBE and the geosciences are integral to each of these goals."