About the Society Governance Documents On National Science Foundation Grant Inquiries

society statement

The following is a statement by President John A. Long on behalf of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Representative Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, recently requested “every e-mail, letter, memorandum, record, note, text message, all peer reviews considered for selection and recommendations made by the research panel to the National Science Foundation (NSF), or document of any kind that pertains to the NSF’s consideration and approval” of eleven grants, including one for support of the Paleobiology Database (PD).

There was no explanation given for this onerous request, and we are concerned about the motivations behind it and its effect on the process of science, including the anonymity of peer review.

We support the statement recently issued by the Paleontological Society’s President Steven M. Holland and are in full agreement that the PD has been a resounding success since its inception in 1998. The PD has been internationally funded and it is supported by the efforts of over 350 scientists from 24 countries. The international paleontological community strongly supports the PD.

The PD fulfils the essential qualities of all good science projects in that in addition to fuelling quality research by scientists, it also provides the public with free access to the largest compilation of data on the fossil record in the world. It is widely used by teachers, school children, college students and citizen scientists in their studies of the fossil record. It has fostered over 200 scientific publications, including seminal works in the world’s leading science journals on the history and controls of Earth’s biodiversity and its extinction events. The PD enables us to comprehend the response of ancient ecosystems to climate change, helping us to better understand a serious problem confronting the world today. Knowledge of how ecosystems have responded in the past is essential to predicting how they will respond to the current threats of habitat loss, ocean acidification, and climate change. The PD makes all of this research possible.

We are concerned about the open-ended nature of this investigation and its potentially damaging effect on the funding of the PD and the funding of paleontological research in general. We are also concerned that the House Committee is undermining the peer-review system and the evaluation of the merits of scientific research by those most qualified to do so, the scientists.  

January 23, 2015