Friday, May 27, 2011

I'm famous--yay?

Several people have pointed out that I (and my commenters) are quoted in Senator Colburn's "report" on waste in government sponsored research. Given that the quoted text from the blog is taken so completely out of context gives me great confidence in my interpretation that much of the report consists of actual facts taken out of context so as to distort their original meaning. Prodigal Spouse thought my annoyed reaction (to the out of context quotation part anyway) was pretty funny, reminding me that the blessing and curse of blogging means that once the words are out in the world, they take on a life of their own. This is always a good lesson to remember! In fact, one of today's top traffic sources to the blog is a Google search on some of the quoted text from the report. (For those looking for the quoted post, it is here).

Having flipped through the report, it mostly consists of mocking different research projects as wastes of money. Given that most of the great industrial basic research labs are gone, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is the last major funder of basic research in many fields in the US. It makes me very sad to see all this ink spilled on attacking the NSF, considering that the entire annual NSF budget is a rounding error on what the US spends annually in Iraq and Afghanistan for results much less likely to be relevant to US taxpayers. I totally agree with Dr. O here--if Senator Colburn has a problem with how NSF funds are being spent, he should have requested hearings or reports from the program managers at NSF, or called on eminent scientists in the field to determine why these projects were funded. It is pretty easy to pick apart many basic research projects based on just the title or abstract (which focus on the work to be done, not on where the work fits in the big picture of the field). It is much harder to predict which projects will be the ones that lead to key breakthroughs ahead of time, which is why they call it research.

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