- National Science Foundation (NSF) spent $38.8 million on government grants and contracts to combat “misinformation” since the start of the Biden administration.
- 64 NSF grants totaling $31.8 million were given to 42 different colleges and universities to research the science of stopping viral ideas.
- Some grants explicitly target “populist politicians” and “populist communications” to scientifically determine ”how best to counter populist narratives.”
When most people think of the National Science Foundation (NSF), they think about the US government investing tax dollars in grand advancements in mathematics, aerospace and engineering. But under the Biden administration, the fastest-growing field of NSF grant funding appears to be the science of censorship.
At Foundation for Freedom Online, we previously reported the strange fact that the exact two universities who partnered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to censor the 2020 election received a $3 million joint grant from the National Science Foundation just months after the election ended. Neither of those two academic “disinfo labs” were taxpayer-funded before the 2020 election.
But then, after an election where in effect they exclusively censored the social media opposition of the current administration, suddenly the current administration started hooking them up with government grants. After that revelation, we investigated every NSF grant issued in 2021 and 2022 relating to social media “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Our goal was to determine the extent to which NSF is spending US tax dollars on censoring US taxpayers.
- State University of New York (SUNY) — 4 unique grants, cumulatively totaling $4.22 million
- George Washington University – 4 unique grants, cumulatively totaling $4 million.
- University of Wisconsin – 3 unique grants, cumulatively totaling $3.83 million
- University of Washington – 3 unique grants, cumulatively totaling $3.52 million
It is notable that #4 on that above list is University of Washington (UW), which is one of the two institutions that DHS worked directly with — and chose as a formal partner — to censor the 2020 election.
For example, below are a few sample videos of the “disinformation” work being done at UW, as explained by UW’s “disinfo lab” founder, Kate Starbird:
And here is UW “disinfo” lab founder Kate Starbird using advanced monitoring AI to map out entire networks of people who spread an election narrative her lab helped censor off of social media:
In a separate report, we will break down a list of the most highly NSF-funded “Mis/Disinformation” topics (Covid, elections, media distrust, etc.) and the most Orwellian grant descriptions we found.
As a preview of that full-breakdown analysis, below is just one NSF grant we’ll highlight in this report, which is representative of the brazen political targeting being done by the Biden Administration with government funds under the pretext of funding “science.”
On May 1, 2022, NSF gave a $200,000 grant to George Washington University (see full grant details here) with the following grant description:
PANDEMIC COMMUNICATION IN TIME OF POPULISM: This project uses several methods to study how populist politicians distorted Covid-19 pandemic health communication to encourage polarized attitudes and distrust among citizens, thus making them more vulnerable to misinformation….
It also studies how best to counter these populist narratives and develop more effective communication channels. The research studies four areas of communication: government-led pandemic communication, media policy, media coverage, and public attitudes towards the media. The project makes an important contribution to research on populist communication and political polarization by bringing two fields of expertise — populist communication and public health — together.
The project will also study how best to counter these populist narratives and develop more efficient and reliable communication. The focus is on four countries — Brazil, Poland, Serbia, and the US — all led by populist leaders during the pandemic and capture different types of populist responses to the pandemic… This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
So this is a government grant, funded by the NSF, which explicitly takes aim at “populist politicians,” “populist communications,” and targets the former “populist leaders” of four countries — including the United States.
To ram the radical bias home, the NSF grant explicitly says the goal of the funding is “to counter these populist narratives.” That is, point blank, just the US government using US taxpayer funds to counter the social media opinions of half of the entire US electorate.
Isn’t the government supposed to work for us?
This Foundation for Freedom Online analysis was done through open source review of the public entries available at USAspending.gov. We aggregated this list from the 70 grants and 2 contracts awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) during FY2021 and 2022, filtered by the keywords “misinformation” and “disinformation”: https://www.usaspending.gov/search/?hash=bc7ca2e75925d281c387468a703a931f
We also ran NSF grant searches for other censorship proxy terms like “‘media literacy’, ‘digital literacy,’ ‘resilience,’ and ‘content moderation.’ Here, we found additional grants to add to this list, but we decided not to include those additional entries in the interest of avoiding confusion and keeping this report squarely focused on “mis/disinformation” as a censorship predicate.
Of those 70 in-scope grants, we removed two from our analysis because they predated FY2021 as a start date.
Of that 68-grant subtotal, the aggregate NSF funding amount was $38,634,848 (plus the $7 million in government contracts, netting a total of over $45 million).
However, we wanted to be as charitable and conservative to the NSF as possible, so from there we eliminated grants that had “misinformation” or “disinformation” in the grant description, but where those terms were clearly “shoehorned in” rather than being the direct focus.
Accordingly, we removed four grants from the 68 subtotal because a review of their specific contents appeared to be duplicative or not primarily about “social media misinformation/disinformation” or Internet censorship.
That gave us the 64-grant total. You can find our fully searchable data set of those 64 grants available in the hyperlink below:
As noted above, we will be supplementing this report with detailed breakdowns by censorship category and targeting type. If the scale and scope of taxpayer dollars is shocking by itself, trust us, it gets much worse when you see the deep specifics of how the censorship sausage is made in each case.
In the meantime, the takeaway is clear: under the Biden Admin, the NSF is funding the idea that if citizen trust in government cannot be earned organically, then it must be installed by science.
Michael Benz is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Freedom Online. Previously, Mr. Benz served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Communications and Information Technology at the U.S. Department of State. Follow him on Twitter @FFO_Freedom.