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In the National Interest Again

The science committee of the US House of Representatives has again taken aim at the peer-review process at the National Science Foundation, ScienceInsider reports.

The committee passed a bill that would increase its oversight of the process and require the agency to detail how each grant it funds is in the national interest. The bill gives seven criteria, ranging from "increased economic competitiveness" to "promotion of the progress of science," that would indicate the work is in the national interest.

ScienceInsider's Jeffrey Mervis notes that this bill is the same as a portion of a larger bill that passed the House in May, but was not taken up by the Senate.

According to Mervis, the chair of the committee, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), said during bill markup he has seen several dozen "questionable" grants — mostly relating to political and social science studies and environmental research — that don't meet this definition.

Smith added that he aims to "assure US taxpayers that their money is spent only on high-priority research."

Most Democrats on the committee, though, don't see it that way. "Everybody here agrees that all NSF research should benefit US taxpayers," Representative Zoe Lofgren (D–CA) tells Mervis. "The concern is that this bill substitutes the political process for the scientific process, a step that is adverse to progress in science."

NSF Director France Córdova has sought to assuage the committee's concerns by making changes to how the agency presents the titles and abstracts of funded studies, and says its practices are already in line with the bill's language.