Rosemary Joyce posts a thoughtful piece about federal funding of research to the Berkeley Blog.
All grants funded by the NSF have gone through a rigorous– dare I say grueling?– peer review process, in which senior scientists across the country freely and without charge read and evaluate proposals as a service to the NSF. Our reviews of proposals include comparing what the proposal says it will do to well defined criteria developed by NSF. These include attention to the basic contribution to knowledge, the “intellectual merit” of the research (what will we know that we did not previously when the research is done?) and how the research will improve public understanding of science, expand participation in science, and where appropriate, how research might lead to improvements in everyday life. These “broader impacts” are taken seriously by researchers, who have shown their dedication to doing things like presenting classroom lectures for K-12 schools, making findings available on websites, and trying to use their knowledge to help guide public policy, for example, on how to cope with climate change.