Historical Perspectives on Challenges to Federal Research

Saturday, February 18, 2017: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Room 206 (Hynes Convention Center)
Melinda Baldwin, Physics Today, College Park, MD
This paper examines the history of attacks on “silly-sounding” science in the United States. In the first years following the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, few politicians or members of the public criticized the money flowing out of the NSF—particularly after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957. However, in the mid-1970s, the combination of an economic crisis and political doubts about the benefits of scientific funding led several lawmakers to criticize specific NSF grants. The most visible of these was Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), who made the NSF a frequent recipient of his famous Golden Fleece Award. The NSF controversies of the 1970s culminated in a lengthy congressional hearing about the NSF’s peer review process. Many of the issues raised in the 1970s are still with us today, and examining past discussions about scientific funding may help illuminate new ways to move the conversation forward.