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APA Activates Grassroots to Protect Peer Review at NSF

APA’s Science Government Relations Office kicked into high gear after hearing from colleagues at COSSA (the Consortium of Social Science Associations, of which APA is a Governing Member) about a congressional attack on the peer review process.

By Heather O'Beirne Kelly

On May 2nd, APA’s Science Government Relations Office kicked into high gear after hearing from colleagues at COSSA (the Consortium of Social Science Associations, of which APA is a Governing Member) about a congressional attack on the peer review process.
 
The U.S. House of Representatives was scheduled to debate the FY 2007 National Science Foundation Reauthorization bill, H.R. 1867, that day prior to a vote for passage. APA was supportive of the overall bill, which provides guidelines for future programming and funding at NSF, having worked for months with congressional staff on the House Science Committee on language relating to funding and sharing of research results. However, two Members of Congress (Republican Reps. Scott Garrett from New Jersey and John Campbell from California) had filed amendments to H.R. 1867 prohibiting NSF funds from being used for nine peer-reviewed and currently-funded grants in the social and behavioral sciences, including two on which APA members were principal investigators. These two amendments, among others, were up for votes on the floor before a vote up or down on the full bill.

APA immediately activated a grassroots advocacy effort among our members, asking that they call and urge their Representatives to vote “NO” on both amendments. These grants had been reviewed for their scientific merit by scientists from universities across the country and approved for funding by NSF. NSF’s peer review process is the gold standard for determining the quality and relevance of grant proposals, and APA views efforts to restrict peer-reviewed research as undermining one of the core principles of the research enterprise.

In addition to calling upon our own APA members, Science Government Relations Office staff reached out to other science associations and university offices here in Washington for support through the Coalition for National Science Funding. Many in turn activated their own advocacy campaigns, even those without direct disciplinary links to any of the grantees slated for de-funding.

APA also contacted Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), a psychologist and new Chairman of the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Education. Chairman Baird, whose Subcommittee had drafted H.R. 1867, led the House floor debate on the bill the evening of May 2nd. He was a brilliant defender of the peer review process and of social and behavioral research in particular (Read the full transcript of the debate as recorded in the Congressional Record) and it is largely due to his efforts that night and those of Rep. Vernon Ehlers (Michigan Republican and physicist) that the Garrett and Campbell amendments were defeated. APA was pleased to see that Chairman Baird used our briefing information on the two psychologists and their research studies in his arguments.

The amendment offered by Rep. Garrett was defeated in a voice vote, and the amendment offered by Rep. Campbell was defeated 195-222 in a recorded vote (View how individual Members of Congress voted). APA will stay active in educating Members of Congress on the importance of peer review in the federal scientific enterprise, and will remain vigilant in looking for other similar amendments to the NSF funding bills likely to come up for House and Senate votes in the next couple of months.

More than 200 APA members and colleagues used APA’s system to record phone calls to their Representatives, and 131 out of 435 House offices received phone calls from psychologists on this issue! This was an outstanding grassroots advocacy response given the incredible time constraint, and we are confident that the constituent advocacy made a strong impression, especially in Republican offices where Representatives in the end voted with the majority Democrats.