Legislation making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives would significantly reduce National Science Foundation funds for the social sciences and interfere with the agency’s peer-review process. The alarming proposal, known as the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act of 2014, or FIRST Act, threatens to dismantle social- and behavioral-science research in the United States.
Under the bill, Congress would, for the first time, fund each individual directorate in the NSF rather than the agency as a whole. As proposed, every directorate would see its budget increase or stay essentially flat, with the exception of the directorates for social, behavioral, and economic sciences and for international and integrative activities. Those directorates would experience a 25-percent and a 17-percent decrease, respectively.
Backers of the legislation argue that public support for scientific research should be concentrated in areas that drive economic growth, and that they know with some certainty what those fields are—biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering, and mathematics. With its more than $7-billion annual budget, the NSF is one of the larger funding sources for researchers. While the social, behavioral, and economic sciences’ budget represents a modest share of that total, almost two-thirds of all federal social-science research support comes from the science agency. <Read more.>