On Tuesday, ASBMB Public Affairs Director Ben Corb attended a meeting with the staff members of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology committee that drafted the High Quality Research Act. The SST staff wanted to have a discussion with the scientific community to clear up misconceptions about the bill. The reality is that very little was clarified.
Over 70 representatives of research organizations attended the meeting to ask questions of SST staff. SST staff indicated this version of the draft bill was for discussion only and never intended for introduction or debate in the full House. Corb and the other research representatives in attendance questioned why draft legislation was the first step in this discussion instead of consultations with the scientific community. SST staff indicated that House majority members had concerns about some grants funded by the NSF, and this draft legislation was written in response to those concerns. It was then pointed out that studies done by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation concerning improvements to peer review would have been a logical starting place to begin writing such legislation.
When questioned about how the specifics of the draft bill and how it would affect the peer-review process, SST staff said that the intent of the draft legislation was never to alter peer review. Rather, the goal was to add another layer of review after peer review that would improve accountability in the NSF grant funding process. SST staff said this would amount to program officers writing two to three sentences verifying that every grant application recommended for funding is important for the progress of science and the nation. This explanation, though, is confusing. How does this additional layer of bureaucracy achieve the committee’s stated goal of improving accountability in peer review and ensuring “that taxpayer dollars are spent on the highest-quality research possible”? Is the committee suggesting that program officers need to be held accountable for the grants recommended for funding by peer reviewers, and to what end?
Despite the sometimes tense back-and-forth between attendees, SST staff indicated that the leadership of the committee had no intention of abandoning the bill.
Yesterday, Jeremy Berg, President of the ASBMB, and formerly co-chair of the NIH committee on enhancing peer review, sent a letter to all of the members of the House SST committee, including the chair of the committee, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. The draft bill “places an additional burden on investigators and program staff to prove the value of their research before conclusions can be reached and is contrary to the scientific method,” writes Berg. He continues “The ASBMB strongly opposes the High Quality Research Act and any act that so fecklessly damages the peer-review process, as well as any attempt to politicize peer-reviewed science.” The ASBMB has also published a position statement on the peer-review process.
Stay tuned to the Blotter for further updates.