Broader Impacts Criterion (BIC), a requirement for US National Science Foundation (NSF) grants covers the areas of science education, science outreach, and the promotion of benefits to society. As you might expect there is support and criticism from scientists and the scientific community about having to include BIC in grant proposals, from the American Physical Society News, June 2007 (volume 16, no. 6),
Bob Eisenstein, Chair of APS’s Panel on Public Affairs, was at NSF when the criterion was first put in place in the mid-1990s. He said that the criterion is meant to serve two purposes: first, it forces scientists to think more carefully about the ways in which their work impacts society, and second, it helps provide the public with more information about what scientists are doing.
Fred Cooper, a current NSF program director for theoretical physics, said his personal opinion is that this is a good thing for NSF to do. “I’m very happy to encourage people to think about these things,” he said. He says it is in scientists’ self-interest to do so.
However, some scientists object to research funding being coupled to education or outreach efforts. Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT says she has heard from many scientists who are unhappy with the broader impacts requirements, and who feel they should be funded based on the quality of their research, not for outreach. …
I gather the criticism was serious enough to warrant a review, excerpted from the July 25, 2011 NISE (Nanoscale Informal Science Education) Net blog posting by Carol Lynn Alpert (BIC requirements have an indirect impact on science museums which benefit from subawards and partnerships with researchers and research institutions seeking to fulfill their BIC obligations),
After reviewing comments from 5,100 stakeholders, the NSB [the National Science Board is the NSF’s governing body] has decided to retain both criteria, but to revise them in order to clarify their intent and “connection to NSF’s core principles” (NSF-11-42, available at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2011/06_mrtf.jsp).
As stated by the NSB, these core principles and national goals are led by concerns for global economic and workforce competitiveness, and for the first time allow that “broader impacts” may be achieved “through the research itself.” This phrase has some worrying that a “BIC loophole” has been created, for it allows that the research itself may be “enough” to enhance U.S economic and workforce competitiveness, without the research team needing to specifically incorporate synergistic activities addressing concomitant K-12 education, diversity, or public engagement goals.
On July 13, AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science] submitted a letter to the Chairman of the NSB strongly objecting to what I am here referring to as the “BIC loophole.” AAAS said, “While increasing knowledge serves a public good, it is not always clear how publicly funded research can produce broader impacts unless it is applied and/or widely communicated beyond the scholarly community. The current language appears to offer researchers an excuse not to engage in a more thoughtful consideration of the criterion.”
Here’s a link to the full letter from the AAAS.
I find it fascinating that there’s a discussion about this in the US as the concept of scientists engaging in public outreach does not seem to exist in the same way in Canada. I was able to find Canadian science funding agencies that require some public outreach. NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) has a general NSERC policy for public communication,
The Institution [receiving the grant] agrees to:
- identify, encourage and assist researchers to communicate with media and participate in announcement events to promote Agency-funded research;
- inform, at least five working days before the proposed announcement, if feasible, the Agency’s or Agencies’ public affairs or communications division – normally through the Institution’s own public affairs, communications, or research communications department – of announcements of Agency awards, programs and significant research results that the Institution proposes to make;
- include appropriate acknowledgement of the appropriate Agency or Agencies in all relevant public communications issued by the Institution;
- respect the relevant Agency or Agencies’ obligation under the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada;
- respect the relevant Agency or Agencies’ prerogative to make the first public announcement of its awards, grants and programs, when the relevant Minister declines to do so. It is the purview of a Minister or the Minister’s designate to make public announcements of all federal expenditures; and
- share with the Agency or Agencies any promotional material for the general public that is based on Agency-funded research.
So, this NSERC policy is aimed more at the universities and other institutions not the individual researcher. Also, it seems to be more a guideline or general rule which provides a bit of a contrast with the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) which lists public communication as a requirement for funding. From the CFI Policy and Program Guide, December 2010,
As part of filing their annual institutional reports (see secion 7.3.2), institutions must provide the CFI with information on the communication activities undertaken in the previous year, along with activities planned for the coming year that are designed to showcase the impacts and outcomes of CFI investments. Institutions are asked to provide information on media activity, publications (print and online) and special events. This information assists the CFI in identifying national trends in research communications, as well as opportunities for collaboration on communications initiatives with institutions. (p. 81)