At ScienceOnline 2014 I learned from Meg Lowman & Rebecca Tripp during a very impressive keynote presentation about a research program to study tardigrades in forest canopies that was specifically focused on making field research accessible to individuals with ambulatory disabilities. Not only was the research fascinating (water bears are EVERYWHERE), but it also represents an important effort to help the social practice of knowledge building that we call science actually include the diversity of our society.
A particularly concerning piece of legislation is making its way around the House of Representatives. This bill would require that the National Science Foundation (NSF) justify each grant it awards with respect to its contributions to protect the “national interest”. Earlier in the year, a similar bill was proposed with an extremely limited definition of what would meet “national interest” criteria. While the current bill has expanded its definition of national interest to include economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defense, legislation like this should be getting all scientists up in arms.
Predicting which avenues of science will lead to major breakthroughs in health or energy is almost impossible. This bill would severely limit early exploratory work that has yet to prove it is in the national interest. This political interference in the operation of the scientific enterprise is a very dangerous door to open. Decisions of what is in the national interest can very quickly become influenced by party politics and the interests of lobbyists. While it is important that NSF funds good proposals of sound science, requiring immediate association with national interest will lead to exaggerated claims by scientists and the exclusion of some of the future’s greatest breakthroughs.
Whether you are a scientist or not, reach out to your representative and let them know how this qualifier will negatively affect the scientific enterprise in the United States. If you don’t know who your representative is, you can find that information here.
Bad news kept coming for US scientists this week, as the National Science Foundation announced that they would cancel the U.S. Antarctic research program for this year because of the ongoing government shutdown. The cancellation will directly affect over 50 scientists, grad students and support staff, and Stanley, a cat conducting important research on Antarctica’s penguins. Sorry, buddy.
A lucky few scientists make it through graduate school and a post-doctoral fellowship AND manage to secure a position running their own lab. Once they begin the day-to-day grind of operating a research enterprise they often realize there’s way less time for science and more administrative tasks to do. This administrative burden can be a drain on creativity and scientific productivity. The National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a request for information (RFI) to learn what aspects of administration are affecting scientists at work, and hear their suggestions for change. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a coalition of many scientific societies, administered a survey sent out to all 26 member societies to collect the data for NSF. The answers they received painted a picture of what it’s like to be a scientific investigator. Continue reading “The dark side of running a lab”