In the not too distant past, Congress decided that it wanted more direct oversight over science granting. Canada seems to be jumping on the same bandwagon, so maybe it’s something in the water. Scientists were outraged, and there has been much written about how bad an idea this is. But most of the objections have centered on the expertise of legislators—or rather a lack thereof—while the problems actually run a lot deeper than that.
Political oversight: It’s not all bad
I don’t happen to agree that political oversight should be absent from science. Taxpayers pay for science, so they should, through the political process, have some say in funding priorities. This idea can be seen in action in Europe, where science funding has been made largely subservient to societal needs. Funding priorities are set through a consultative and consensus-driven process that combines relevant industries, scientists, and relevant government institutes. Their recommendations are taken to the politicians, who either release the money or make recommendations for changes based on other considerations.
For instance, in energy research, fusion is often specifically excluded because fusion researchers draw on money through ITER, which is government funded. Essentially, everybody (except maybe the fusion researchers) wants to make sure that fusion research doesn’t get two slices of the pie.