So Lamar Smith (R-TX) is introducing a bill requiring the NSF to start awarding grants purely on how “groundbreaking” the research will be. This is the same Smith that sponsored both SOPA and PCIP. The basis of this is to start looking at grants from an economic cost/benefit perspective.
The problem is this simply doesn’t work. The UK tried to do this with the Research Excellence Framework. The scientific community wrote some extremely good arguments against such a requirement, many of which are applicable here. To boil it down though: While research may not be financially viable, it has no bearing on its scientific value. Furthermore, to create a requirement where all research is “groundbreaking” shows how ignorant Smith truly is regarding how science works. Science takes many small steps towards a much larger goal. No one submits a research grant asking for money to “cure cancer.” No, first you research the pathways that cause cancers. Simultaneously, you recognize that while there are many different types of cancers, you ask if there may be an underlying commonality between them. If there is, that would greatly help with finding a cure. You search for different genes/proteins/irregularities involved. Then you look into what happens when you change those factors. Next comes finding a vector for a treatment. After that, there’s research into making your novel treatment both safe and affordable. Finally, if you’re very lucky, you get to start testing your treatment.
To assume science just makes this big jump from A -> B shows the underlying stupidity of the lawmakers involved. Such a bill is grossly counterproductive and will harm the scientific community.
Furthermore, someone like Lamar Smith should NOT be allowed to make laws regarding science or technology. Time and time again he has shown that he is completely inept and frankly stupid when it comes to these fields. Just like how SOPA was created on his extremely flawed understanding of the internet, this new bill is founded on his flawed understanding of scientific research. I cannot wait to see the day when Lamar Smith is voted out of office. He is one of the worst things to happen to scientific and technological legislation since Ted Stevens.