Sen. Flake responds to APA advocate about federal research funding

Recorded exchange captures controversy over “wastebooks.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced the release of his latest “wastebook” at a Washington press conference on Jan. 10, 2017.   The document – titled “Porkemon Go" – lists what Flake believes to be examples of wasteful government spending, including federally funded research projects. 

At the press conference, Pat Kobor of the American Psychological Association’s Science Government Relations Office, raised the concern that such wastebooks misrepresent the research supported by the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies.  Together, Kobor’s comments and Flake’s response (see video) capture much of the current debate surrounding wastebooks – a debate that may become more heated as Congress and the new administration proceed with budget deliberations this year.

TRANSCRIPT

Pat Kobor (APA): “Publications like this are really at best incomplete, on the research projects, and at worst misleading and disingenuous, there’s context to all this research that you don’t leave room to go into detail, and worse, you don’t really ask the scientists to help explain or justify the work. You say there’s no compelling case for the drinking research. I’ll bet there is. I’ll bet you should have asked for it. I think that would have made a big difference. Reports like this make it look as if NIH is asleep at the wheel. You know, letting stuff in that doesn’t meet standards. I don’t think that’s true, but I think you feed a false narrative with a report like this.”

Sen. Flake: “I think whenever you put a report out there, obviously, we’re saying to the agencies ‘Come and justify it.’ They should. I actually attended last year, it was an event where some of the researchers came in to the Russell Senate Office Building…and I went and viewed it and it was informative and like I said, some of this is basic research, a lot of it is not. A lot of it is research that is happening elsewhere through market-driven incentives, and some of it is just interesting things that we might want to know, but it’s tough to justify given other priorities that we have at the federal level. So I certainly take your point that sometimes it’s an incomplete picture at what’s going on, but we do want those who are receiving these grants to actually come forward and say ‘Hey, why is this important? Why is it the federal government that needs to fund this research?’ And that’s a good conversation to have, and I hope we’ve sparked that. Thank you.”

The event that Sen. Flake mentioned attending last year was organized by APA and the Consortium of Social Science Associations.  It featured scientists whose federally funded projects had been fully vetted by funding agencies but were subsequently criticized in Congress and the media.   Read more about the event in this Huffington Post account.