The National Science Foundation (NSF) is finding that old habits die hard. Specifically, NSF officials are unhappy that many reviewers are ignoring the broader impact of proposed research when scoring proposals. So last week NSF director Rita Colwell sent out an "important notice" to university presidents and others asking for their help in "conveying the importance of both intellectual merit and the broader impacts of research and education" to reviewers.
In 1997, NSF changed its reviewing criteria and elevated "impact"--on everything from student learning to geographic diversity--to the same status as the quality of the proposed science. But a recent informal study of 17,000 reviews done under the new system found that just 48% addressed the nonscience criterion. NSF deputy director Joseph Bordogna says that "concern would be too strong a word" to describe the agency's reaction to the noncompliance. But Congress may feel otherwise. The Senate wants to give NSF $750,000 so that the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) can study the impact of the new criteria, which help legislators measure if NSF is meeting a 1993 law aimed at making sure agencies spend tax dollars wisely. NAPA is set to begin a similar study that was requested last year by the same appropriators.