So much for “freedom”

There is this ridiculous assumption out there that only authoritarian regimes stifle “freedom” – of opinion or research, for instance. One can get quite the same effect by a combination of

  1. creating artificial scarcity, e.g. by reducing funding in a currency one issues, and
  2. influencing the distribution mechanisms for said scarce funding

and voila – undesirable research is not getting funded anymore, as Ars Technica reports:

National Science Foundation gives up, won’t fund political science
No grants until 2014 at the earliest.

The NSF’s remit is to fund basic science, but the [Congress] bill under consideration would require the NSF to consider national security and economic impact as part of the grant evaluation process. So far, that particular bill has gone nowhere. The Senate’s Tom Coburn (R-OK) managed to get similar language into the NSF’s funding bill, but it only applied to a single field: political science.

As of June, the NSF announced that it would incorporate these requirements into the grant review process, but otherwise business would go on as usual. But Nature News is now reporting that the Foundation has simply given up trying to provide its reviewers with guidelines on how to consider economic impact. Instead, it has cancelled a planned grant deadline for August and will not fund any further political science grants this year.

People contacted by Nature News suggest that the decision is a result of the difficulties of asking reviewers to evaluate the financial or security impacts of research (it’s hard to get anyone to predict what the ultimate impact of basic research is going to be in any field). Given the difficulty, a number of people suggested that the agency just chose to avoid giving anyone the ammunition needed to start another political controversy.

A capitalist society is never “free”, no matter which political rules are in place.

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