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Beyond the Data

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Science  14 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6053, pp. 169-171
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6053.169

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) uses two criteria to judge the 55,000 grant proposals it receives each year: intellectual merit and "broader impacts." The second phrase is intended to help NSF determine whether the cutting-edge science being proposed is also addressing an important societal issue. It was adopted to rebut criticism that the basic-research agency cared more about the interests of the academic community it serves than the needs of the taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for its programs. The National Science Board, NSF's oversight body, would like to explain once and for all what NSF means by broader impacts. In June, a board task force took a stab at drafting a new set of principles for reviewers and applicants to follow—and the draft guidelines generated a fresh wave of protest. The task force has taken that criticism to heart and is busy revising the guidelines.