Coburn's Not Exactly Blinded by NSF's Science

June 1, 2011 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

Among the barbeques, the houseguests, the sightseeing and the yard work, I spent a portion of my Memorial Day weekend reading some excerpts from Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) 73-page report on wasteful spending at the National Science Foundation. The report, “Under the Microscope,” criticized the NSF for its lack of oversight over grant funding, its management problems and its funding of many “low-priority projects.” Portions of the report actually made for entertaining reading.

Sen. Coburn cited numerous sources — the report has 15 pages of endnotes — as a basis for his findings. Some of his critiques were quite eye-opening, including his mention of NSF employees taking part in Jello-wrestling contests — pictures included! — at the NSF’s McMurdo research station in Antarctica.

He also blasted numerous “frivolous” studies funded by the NSF, including:

  • Does playing Farmville on Facebook help people make friends and keep them?
  • Do online music videos such as “Money 4 Drugz” increase our understanding of scientific concepts?
  • Are people more or less racially focused when seeking love online in the Obama era?
  • Should you buy sporting tickets in advance or at the last minute?
  • How do rumors get started?
  • How long can a shrimp run on a treadmill?
  • What was the impact of Youtube.com on the 2008 elections?

His list went on and on. Coburn recommended that NSF fund studies that “represent an important scientific idea rather than the whimsy of individual researchers.” Although it appears Coburn is on a witch hunt of sorts, he does make some important points in his study. However, in the grand scheme, I believe the NSF provides funding for some critical research and, while some may seem trivial, there are things that can be learned. By the way, how long can a shrimp run on a treadmill?

What do you think about Coburn’s report and NSF’s funding priorities? Let us know.

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