This is a topical blog about archaeology and digital data, so this post may appear off topic at first, but trust me it is not.
The Republican Party (or GOP), in its quest to appear like the party of “fiscal responsibility” [sic], has launched a new crowd-sourcing site to go after “questionable” grants made by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF funds some archaeology, so this development is of interest to readers of Digging Digitally.
While one can take issue with the wisdom of cutting NSF’s budget versus other areas of the federal budget, what makes this development noteworthy is the explicit use of crowd-sourcing to politicize specific funding decisions. The GOP sponsored site asks users to:
In the “Search Award For” field, try some keywords, such as: success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus, etc. to bring up grants. If you find a grant that you believe is a waste of your taxdollars, be sure to record the award number.
OK. So does that mean “museums”, “social norms” and “culture” are all implicitly a waste of money? I guess “success” is a waste too. Naturally, you can’t cut any other area of government spending (like defense or entitlements) from the GOP site. It’s a nice way to make “crowd-sourcing” less than democratic, since essentially this website predetermines your choices in what you will cut. But I’m going off track…
More to the point, how should the average lay person understand an NSF award enough to evaluate it, especially when all that is available is a title and a short abstract? I’m not qualified to evaluate many grants in archaeology because different areas of specialization require so much background knowledge. I consider myself pretty scientifically literate and I can barely understand NSF award information in some areas of computer science, economics, climate research, etc.
Nevertheless, I trust that the NSF awards in these areas outside of my field are probably worthwhile. That’s because I generally trust the scientific community and scientific processes (grant reviews, peer-review). Science is not perfect, but it does tend to value skepticism, evidence, and intellectual freedom.
The GOP’s crowd-sourcing effort shows an implicit, but fundamental distrust of the scientific community. The GOP wants you to second-guess expert opinion, because scientific expertise is by its nature suspect in contemporary Republican Party ideology. No doubt this will further politicize climate science, evolutionary science, and many other areas archaeologists care about.
Lastly, the whole “fiscal responsibility” thing is pretty laughable. Via Twitter, Tom Scheinfeldt wrote:
Total NSF budget=$7 billion. Cost of yesterday’s tax cuts=$700 billion. Targeting NSF is just a smokescreen to keep budget hawks preoccupied
Good point! I politely sent a note about Tom’s point via the GOP site that maybe they could look for budget savings more fruitfully in entitlements or defense spending.