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Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IUís VP for Research among four experts providing Congress testimony on research funding

U.S. global competitiveness relies on scientific research, innovation, members are told

July 26, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Vice President for Research Jorge Josť testified today on the merit review grant award process and its effect on federally-funded scientific research during a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.

Josť was one of four experts to testify before the subcommittee as it works to understand the strengths and potential weaknesses of a funding process used by a number of federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. In Fiscal Year 2010, the NSF alone awarded 12,996 grants from more than 55,500 proposals, and about 96 percent of those were evaluated through the NSF merit review process.

His testimony emphasized the importance of continued robust federal funding for scientific research and the value of the merit review system for ensuring that federal funds are used to support the most important and far-reaching scientific research.

"Federal funding for scientific research, awarded through rigorous processes of merit review, is a necessary and important component of continued American preeminence in the world, and is a foundation of our nation's long-term economic and national security," Josť told subcommittee members during the hearing on "The Merit Review Process: Ensuring Limited Federal Resources are Invested in the Best Science."

"Maintaining our competitiveness globally, continuing American leadership in scientific research and innovation, and ensuring that our children and grandchildren enjoy a future in which American higher education and industry remain the envy of the world -- all of these rely on continued, robust federal funding for scientific research and discovery, funding awarded through merit review," he added.

Indiana University received a record $603.9 million in grants and awards for research and other sponsored programs during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, including $196.4 million from the National Institutes of Health, and another $47.5 million from the National Science Foundation.

Subcommittee members have said questions remain about the way in which scientific priorities are established and whether the process is truly supporting innovative research and researchers. As part of the inquiry, the subcommittee is trying to determine if more can be done to encourage transformative science, if the merit review process encourages the participation of new principal investigators, and whether or not the current process effectively encourages and evaluates multidisciplinary projects, among other issues.

Joining Josť in presenting testimony were Cora Marrett, deputy director of the National Science Foundation, Keith R. Yamamoto, vice chancellor for research, University of California San Francisco, and Nancy B. Jackson, president of the American Chemical Society.

Josť said the merit review process, which utilizes subject matter experts to review proposals through the mail, in-person at a panel review, or through a combination of both, is the most effective process for ensuring federal funds are used for the most important and far-reaching scientific research.

"One indication of the strength of the merit review system is the number of major scientific breakthroughs resulting from research that was awarded federal funding as a result of peer review by experts, people uniquely able to recognize the potential of proposed research," he said.

The average person in the street might not think taxpayer dollars should be spent studying C. elegans, a tiny, one millimeter long transparent worm, Josť noted. But that work has led to advances in human-related health issues like macular degeneration, asthma, diabetes and brain diseases, while nine Nobel Prize winners since 2002 have focused their work on C. elegans.

"In these challenging economic times, it is more important than ever that federal funds are spent wisely," Josť said in closing. "Federal research funding has for seventy years been a cornerstone of American economic security, scientific and educational preeminence."

The full hearing can be viewed on-line here.

For more information or to speak with Josť, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or