Thanks to @Ananyo on Twitter for pointing out Jeffrey Mervis’s report on last week’s hearing on NSF’s 2013 budget request:
Mervis draws our attention to a question from Representative Andy Harris (R-MD):
“What is NSF doing to bring down the price of gasoline?”
This question highlights the need for researchers funded by NSF to get their minds right about NSF’s Broader Impacts Criterion. Unless researchers make the value of their research understandable both to Congress and the public, questions like this will keep on coming.
Imagine if NSF Director Suresh had gone into the hearing armed with an easily searchable database of the broader impacts of NSF-funded research. He could still have replied to the question as he did:
“I wish it were that easy, and that I could say NSF’s efforts today could lead to a reduction in gas prices tomorrow,” Suresh replied. But it doesn’t work that way, he explained to the freshman legislator.
But he could also have followed that up with something like this — or perhaps with something even better.
Even if he is the Director of the agency, it shouldn’t be up to Suresh alone to figure out how to make the case for NSF funding. Researchers who receive that funding ought to help. And the best way to do so would be to make the Broader Impacts Criterion their own — that means taking the opportunity to address their own broader impacts, not simply resisting calls to do so.