House passes bill requiring all NSF research be done in “the national interest”

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed another bill threatening peer review. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (HR 3293) would require every research grant from the National Science Foundation to advance “the national interest,” offering broad criteria as to what constitutes the national interests. The bill is now in the Senate, after passing 236-178 on a largely party-line vote in the House.

Last year, the House narrowly approved similar policy guidance for NSF in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Science Committee, is leading the fight for both bills.

Democrats in the house are wary that the legislation would be a tool for politicians to trim research by social scientists and climate change scholars. Congressman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the top Democrat on the House Science Committee, said the act could make researchers less likely to propose bold ideas out of fear their work would be publicly ridiculed.

Chair Smith wrote an opinion piece on the bill in a recent issue of Science.