Defunding the NSF Political Science Program


Yes, that fun-loving Senate caucus out to save the world from the horrors of systematic study of politics—clearly unnecessary, as the splendid outcomes of the invasion of Iraq, ten years ago this week, plainly demonstrate that we already know everything there possibly is to know about politics—is back at work again, with yet another mischievous set of amendments prohibiting the National Science Foundation from funding political science research. The latest iteration ingeniously moving the money into cancer research, though as someone with more than a passing familiarity with cancer, I find this a particularly cynical exploitation of other people’s tragedies. Though hardly unexpected: it’s the American way.

At issue here is around $7- to $10-million dollars per year. To put this into perspective, the astronomers and physicists have managed to cadge about $365-million in NSF funding  — which would fund the NSF political science program until about 2050 — for this

which I also doubt is going to do much to cure cancer.   Somehow methinks money is not really at issue here.

Yet the response of the political science community has been astonishingly lame. Back in the days when I was an environmental activist, Rule #1 was that petitions were a complete waste of time (other than making your membership feel good), and Rule #2 was that letters generated by simply following a template were almost as great a waste of time. Yet that seems to be the gist of all of the suggestions.

Where are the APSA and MPSA on this?—so busy defending their precious journals against the threat of open access that they didn’t see this coming? Or in the case of APSA, under the control of the Perestroikans who are delighted this is happening? Doesn’t APSA occupy some of the most expensive real estate on the planet precisely to guarantee access to Congress? Or have the defenders have simply gotten worn down and sooner or later Coburn, Flake et al will prevail?

The irony, of course, is that projects like the Political Instability Task Force and Worldwide Integrated Conflict Early System have made very substantial use of data, methods and software developed under NSF funding for basic research over the past forty years, and are now directly feeding into policy decisions.

In fact, one could easily imagine might some day projects like PITF and W-ICEWS might help prevent a mistake like the invasion of Iraq.  Estimates for the cost of which vary wildly, but taking the median figure of $1.5-trillion, would fund the NSF political science program for around 150,000 years.

[Apologies for the lack of recent posts but I’ve been frantically trying to catch up on coding a data set for the aforementioned PITF and dealing with bureaucratic snafus at a large football-and-drinking school. More on that later. Then that little detail of ISA.]

Update: 19 March 2013

Sarah Binder over at Monkey Cage is providing some play-by-play on this in the Senate (and, based on the comments, the issue is still on-going). If I’m understanding the situation correctly, Reid allowed [more or less] the GOP nine amendments, and Coburn, with only of those four golden tickets, chose to allocate one of those to defunding political science! $10-million in a roughly $1-trillion budget bill. Come on, folks, even by the standards of a party where the term “wacko bird” is now considered a compliment, there has got to be more going on. Inquiring minds want to know!

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2 Responses to Defunding the NSF Political Science Program

  1. GoodReason says:

    What’s the genesis of this clear animus? I’ve never been very clear on that . . .

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