Thursday, March 26, 2009

NSF Information

The NSF issued a not-so-informative statement about where some of their $3 billion from the stimulus package is going to go.  

Of the $2 billion that's been allotted to Research and Related Activities, most if it will be going towards funding projects that are already in house, but haven't been supported due to insufficient funds.  This could be good news for recent applicants - it doesn't offer any guidance as to which academic projects in particular will receive attention, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Ultimately, an ostensible purpose of the NSF is to fund basic research.  It was not founded with any explicit obligation to report upon the "usefulness" of the projects it selects to support.  

The NSF will issue solicitations for the Major Research instrumentation program (MRI), which was given $300 million by the stimulus package at some point this spring - good news for institutions who could benefit from more equipment.  Hopefully the NSF will have good oversight into where this money goes.   While the notion that "basic research" deserves funding - for reasons ranging the intrinsic value of the search for truth to the likelihood of useful serendipidous findings - isn't a bad one, there are certain problems that are especially pressing right now.  Energy comes to mind most obviously, and the people in charge of prioritizing research funding will inevitably "pick winners" to some extent.  It's above the pay grade of this blog to advise decision makers on what winners to pick, and beyond its ability to suggest how such a practice could be avoided, but it would be in everybody's interest if the system for allocating funding was reassessed in the context of our energy crisis.

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