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    Bad For Budgets - NSF Sexcapades Under Fire
    By Hank Campbell | January 28th 2009 03:13 PM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

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    Morale has plummeted at the National Science Foundation, it seems, due to governmental oversight and interference from above.    The Senate Finance Committee didn't like a report they got from the NSF and are going to do something about it.

    What, that sum'bitch Bush came back to haunt scientists and personally rewrite reports and ask why employees aren't doing their jobs instead of doing talk show appearances about how much he stinks?

    Not this time.   Sure, it's a Republican and, yes, he's suppressing freedom of expression as all Republicans must do, but that's because Chuck Grassley doesn't like that freedom of expression means looking at a lot of porn during an NSF work day.   Grassley is not an easy guy to like; not because he goes after corruption like a hopped-up bulldog and criticizes the Department of Defense for wasteful spending and tracks down government employees using government credit cards for personal stuff - that's all fine - he must not be likable because of that Republican thing.  We are a science site, after all.

    But he's on to something here.  

    First, we have to give credit to the NSF for listing “Abuse of NSF IT Resources” anywhere at all in their 68-page semiannual report.   That had to be painful to do, though it's better than going to jail for not doing it.   They had to have known what Grassley's reaction would be.   As you might guess, he is launching an investigation.  

    Apparently this is not just people going on Facebook or other modern contraptions that John McCain and Republicans do not know about - one NSF “senior official” has allegedly spent 20% of his working hours during the last two years looking at porn.    Another complained to the IT group because the web cam he was using for his online canoodling was too slow.   Bringing that complaint to IT takes some cajones, I have to tell you.

    We like the National Science Foundation, of course.   We had sort of hoped that the NSF's budget of $6 billion would even go up after 8 years of Sauron's rule and the ... well ... okay, they got budget increases during the Bush years too, but not enough, because it's George Bush and he did everything wrong.

    But it's going to be darn difficult to justify budget increases when clearly a pretty good amount of money is already being wasted.    When people see tips of icebergs, they tend to avoid them.

    “The semiannual report raises real questions about how the National Science Foundation manages its resources, and Congress ought to demand a full accounting before it gives the agency another $3 billion in the stimulus bill,” Grassley said.  Well, this is a wake up call but plenty of money is going to be wasted by government employees on things a lot worse than porn so let's hope they don't get too extreme and cancel the whole thing.   It's an embarrassment, and they need to fix it, but it shouldn't be a death sentence when GM uses its government stimulus money to offer 0% financing on SUVs it can't sell any other way.

    NSF has wisely installed filters, hopefully to keep this from happening the next time they ask for more money.

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    Hat tip: Politico via Reddit.com

    Comments

    Man. I thought this was a science blog. Turns out it is just one more venue for bitching about Bushie. Come on, it's easy to complain. How about something dealing with Science instead of political whining?

    Hank
    We have 25,000 science articles here.   And I voted for Bush 4 times.   I am not sure how that comes across as whining or that we don't deal with science.  

    This is basically a love poem to Chuck Grassley of Iowa - only funnier.
    jtwitten
    I wasn't sure if sjburnt was missing your sarcasm or I was missing his/hers/its.
    Hank
    I assume he is serious.  Mine was so obvious even that Murder, She Wrote lady would have caught on.
    he must not be likable because of that Republican thing. We are a science site, after all.
    What more would I have to do, put everything in capital letters and italics?

    P.S. I just realized I accidentally clicked Article instead of Blog when I wrote this.    This isn't as funny as your pirate thing so it only merits being read by people who absolutely can't help themselves.
    jtwitten
    We know SJBURNT is either really dense or really clever, definitely not median. 

    Researching Piratology completely ruined Sid Meier's Pirates! for me.
    Hank
    Do you mean the old Microprose one or the newer one?   Because a screenshot of a barmaid in the old one carried a surprising amount of subtext.    I don't see how more pirate knowledge could ruin that.
    jtwitten
    Both.  If I don't have the option to cow trading vessels into submission with my blood-thirsty reputation at the sight of my flag, what's the point anymore?
    Boredom ! With all the irrefutable research data emitting from industry and bio-chem labs the good fellows at the
    N.S.F. have no other outlet for their intellectual curiosity than porn . Perhaps our splendid lawmakers could benefit from a little porn in their daily lives as it would have them literally screwing themselves instead of honest ,wage earning taxpayers .

    It's difficult b/c the federal gov't is quick to give out money with little to no oversight. Certainly this problem isn't specific to the NSF or science. I tend to be skeptical though of how much big-budget centrally planned science can advance our knowledge.

    A lot of fields seem to have adopted a plug-and-chug empirical methodology, as if to say that if we only had twice the money and the right expensive equipment, we can advance so far, which is curiously in line with how grant money is given out, but doesn't seem to reward new ideas and developments. I realize this is just my impressionistic view of lots of areas that you guys know more about, so I'd be glad to be shown wrong. Or at the least could anyone compile a small list of research efforts where tons of extra grant funding genuinely led to scientific breakthroughs? I always hear that we're spending such and such on cancer, or this much on some other area, but I never hear of the breakthroughs that the funding produced. Which isn't to say that they're non-existent, but that's why it'd be interesting to see a short list from guys who'd know better.

    One example to the contrary that I've gotten into is fMRI research. Recently people have been raising very tough questions about whether fMRI research can teach us anything (I had a post a while ago on this if you haven't heard of the debate, http://cntrly.blogspot.com/2008/11/fmri-argument-of-authority.html). If these criticisms turn out to be valid, then you have a very definite example of an area where expensive methodology was handsomely rewarded with grants despite being bad science.

    The implication is not only that such grants might be wasteful, but that they actually might retard science. I don't mean to tread too controversial, but economically speaking you see this a lot, where government spending skews proper notions of supply and demand, and it turns out to be not just wasteful, but harmful for the economy.

    One more concrete example is in the area of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, where not only has the gov't has sank millions of dollars with very little to show for it, but the field has made tremendous advances from studies of comparatively minimal cost that have produced a-ha moment after a-ha moment.

    NSF is probably the most cost-effective federal agency in Washington. The money appropriated by Congress results in the most highly merited scientific research and development. And all this with hardly any money devoted to internal agency overhead. The issue raised by Grassley was ?buried? within an internal IG report and probably has already been addressed by NSF. It dumbfounds me why he would take this relatively minor issue and blow it up at this particularly time, especially when he must know that this is going to discredit, at least temporarily, one of the finest agencies in Washington. Is the guy sort of, well, not very bright? I wonder. I understand he is big on "waste, fraud, and abuse." He refers to this as a ?systemic? issue. I fear that small, bean-counting minds looking for "perfection" tend to be unable to put things in a larger perspective, much like religious fanatics and other weirdos. Please, Sir. Pick on another agency. Leave NSF alone. It gives much more back to the American taxpayer than you ever have or ever will.

    Hank
    We all agree that the NSF does a lot of good but you seem to be saying there should be an easier set of standards for how government money is used at groups we like; so it's implied there would be another standard for groups we don't.   I don't agree with that.  That's what the word 'standards' means.    I assume he used the term 'systemic' because some incidents had gone on for a period of years - if something goes on for years and no one has fixed it, it is unlikely it would have 'already been addressed by the NSF.'

    One thing certain is that it has been addressed now.   I agree that with all the porkbarrel being thrown around for vague 'stimulus' programs like "modernizing classrooms" and "computerizing health care" (whatever that even means) that denying NSF-funded researchers because government employees apparently can't be fired no matter what they do at work sounds wrong.