Policy Analysis

NSF Sets Gold Standard for Scientific Research Funding

November 3, 2014

The National Science Foundation — known as the gold standard for scientific research funding throughout the world – has unfairly come under fire by the House Science Committee. As staffers search for information about so-called frivolous grants (that actually have the potential to positively impact society), NSF has released an 84-page report detailing its merit review process as mandated by the National Science Board.

Grant proposals are evaluated by external experts and NSF program officers on the basis of two main criteria:
  1. Intellectual merit
  2. Broader impacts of the prosed research

And those grants have led to unimaginable innovations, including Web browsers, barcodes, fiber optics, Internet routers, Web search engines and Doppler Radar.

Among the report’s findings:
  • An increasing number of fundable proposals are declined each year that were rated “very good or higher” in the merit review process. These declined proposals represent a rich portfolio of unfunded opportunities; proposals that, if funded, hold the promise of delivering substantial research and education benefit.
  • Proposals submitted by and awards made to women have increased since FY 2005, although both are less than 25% of the total.
  • The difference in success rates between early career principal investigators and later career principal investigators has declined.

Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.