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Shining a spotlight on climate change musical, other NSF grants

By   /   February 15, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

National Science Foundation photo

OFF-KEY CLUNKER: “Climate Change: The Musical” bombed at the box office, and was panned by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.


Bizarre and bloated research grants from the National Science Foundation are under the microscope in Washington.

Legislation by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, cleared the U.S. House of Representatives this week. The bill aims to bring transparency to NSF expenditure of tax dollars by requiring that each grant award be accompanied by a non-technical explanation of how the project serves the national interest.

NSF awarded $700,000 to support a climate change-themed musical that quickly closed. Almost $1 million went to a social media project that targeted Americans’ online political speech. Smith cited other sketchy grants:

  • $487,000 to study the Icelandic textile industry during the Viking era.
  • $340,000 to study early human-set fires in New Zealand.
  • $516,000 to help amateurs create a video game to “Relive Prom Night.”
  • $233,000 to study ancient Mayan architecture and their salt industry.
  • $220,000 to study animal photos in National Geographic magazine
  • $50,000 to study lawsuits in Peru from 1600 to 1700.

Smith’s accountability bill wouldn’t necessarily stop funding for such projects. The measure states, “Nothing … shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”

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Matt McCall, who is challenging Smith in the March 1 GOP primary, would go further, saying, “Government has no business funding special science programs.”

“When we keep the apparatus of spending on special programs available to the federal government, there is going to be waste and abuse,” said McCall spokesman Andrew Lewis. “That money is at the whim of whichever majority happens to hold Congress.”

“Republicans should not be arguing over who can ride the beast of big government better. We should be killing the beast of big government by getting rid of this kind of spending all together,” he added. “If the people want it, if there is a demand for it, private enterprise will find a way to fund it.”

Asked about the climate-change musical, White House science czar John Holdren gave the stock answer: “This administration is committed to ensuring that America remains at the epicenter of the global revolution in scientific research and technological innovation.”

Smith chairs the Science, Space and Technology Committee, where two Democrats joined 16 Republicans in co-sponsoring the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act. Texas cosponsors were Reps. Brian Babin, R-Baytown, and Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Contact him at [email protected]. @Kenricward


Kenric Ward is the San Antonio-based reporter for A California native and veteran journalist who has worked on three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, he received a BA from UCLA (Political Science/Phi Beta Kappa) and holds an MBA. He reported and edited at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun before joining in 2012 and previously reported from Virginia. Kenric can be reached at [email protected]