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Did Nick Matzke Misuse National Science Foundation Money Intended to Fund Science Research?


Former National Center for Science Education activist Nick Matzke has just published an utterly inane article in Science about academic freedom bills. In the article, he constructs a “phylogenetic tree” to show that various academic freedom bills are related to one another.

If the intention was to show that Discovery Institute has supported academic freedom legislation in various states, or that many of those bills have similar language, Matzke didn’t need to construct a phylogenetic tree. He simply could have followed the reporting here at Evolution News. If I were a Darwinist, I would be more careful: Publishing something like this might lead people to think that phylogenetics is only good for producing trivialities.

A more serious issue is whether Matzke misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to write his article. Matzke discloses in the article’s acknowledgements that his research was funded by two National Science Foundation grants. But if you look up those grants, they appear to have nothing to do with the article he published.

Indeed, NSF Grant 0919124 is a $422,000 grant intended to “develop bivalve molluscs as a preeminent model for evolutionary studies….” And NSF Grant DBI-1300426 is a $12 million+ grant for the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, which told the NSF it would “provide scientific insights into problems such as the control of invasive species, limiting impacts of infectious diseases, and suggesting new methods for drug design.”

Perhaps Matzke claims academic freedom bills are an “infectious disease,” but I doubt most taxpayers who paid for the grant would agree. And I have no idea how he might connect his writing on academic freedom legislation to research about molluscs.

If Matzke used taxpayer funds intended to underwrite serious scientific research to produce this silly piece about the politics of the evolution debate, then the National Science Foundation should consider asking for some of its grant money back.

Image: Bivalve mollusc, by Drow male [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.