How Much Broader Impact?

The debate over NSF’s broader impacts requirement in grant proposals heats up at a congressional hearing.

Megan Scudellari
Jul 28, 2011

Some scientists are not pleased with proposed new “broader impact” requirements that may be added to the National Science Foundation's grant review process. At a hearing on Tuesday (July 26) before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, scientists debated the proposed new criteria, which include nine "national goals" that NSF projects should "collectively" advance, including increased economic competitiveness and improved K-12 science education. At present, the NSF open-endedly asks researchers to describe how their research will benefit society.

At the hearing, Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor for research at the University of California, San Francisco, argued that it is inappropriate for reviewers to be asked to "step outside of their areas of expertise" and to "make guesses" as to whether proposals are meeting national goals, ScienceInsider reported. He said it is also difficult to make such assessments on individual projects, especially basic science investigations whose...

Two other academics at the hearing were more supportive of the changes: Jorge José, vice president of research at Indiana University, and Nancy Jackson, president of American Chemical Society. Both agreed using other criteria instead of just scientific merit can help the NSF better decide which projects to fund.

The National Science Board's Task Force on Merit Review will discuss proposed revisions today (July 28). The new criteria are expected to be finalized this fall.

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