Defunding NSF Political Science, continued

John Sides at MonkeyCage has provided the revised text of the Coburn amendment

(a) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.

Oh…national security exception…hmmm, with the Political Instability Task Force, DARPA ICEWS [6] and the IARPA ACE and OSI programs to fall back on as justification, that pretty much covers every NSF grant I’ve ever had [1] and certainly anything I could imagine applying for in the foreseeable future.

So there’s not a story here after all…move along, move along.

Just kidding.

Interesting development, and one that probably should worry a lot of people, and certainly not just in political science. [2] Given that this has also dropped that cynical cancer research provision [3], one could imagine this not only passing at some later date, but going viral to other parts of NSF, certainly within the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate, where Political Science would by no means be the most vulnerable program on this criterion. [4] And in an era of fiscal restraint, extended to various $100M+ natural science programs which many people within those sciences think are a waste of resources—LIGO is only one of many—and a really big Pandora’s box has been opened.

Yet I still remain mystified by Coburn’s obsession with this. While I certainly do not agree with the gentleman on everything, or even most things, he is by most accounts very intelligent and by no means a hypocrite: in one of his earliest forays against “waste”, he started by highlighting some variation on “bridge to nowhere” in his own state and while there were probably a few cheap shots at legitimate research that was poorly characterized [8], research was by no means the only target, and many of the projects he targeted did look a tad dubious. We’re not dealing with a reality-challenged Michelle Bachman here.

So what’s going on? Here’s some speculation based on one of the earlier instances of these attacks (they come every five years or so): it’s not Coburn—who was a physician—but (duh…) one or more of his staffers who had a bad experience with graduate work in political science. In all likelihood, someone who excelled at the “slow journalism” approach of undergraduate polisci, then got into grad school (or didn’t, or didn’t get into the programs where they imagined they belonged, possibly due to low quantitative GRE scores) and found it was an entirely different kettle of fish due to the methodological requirements, and this person became very unhappy. Add in the possibility that this individual was a chip-on-the-shoulder twenty-something conservative who thought the whole of academia was against them [5], and we’ve got the sort of deep-seated “I’ll show those bastards…” resentment that could fuel this sort of thing.

And then there is Senator Jeff Flake, who has an M.A. in political science from BYU. Come on, somebody must know the story here.

Update 2030 EDT

Oh crap, it passed! Not the first time I wish I hadn’t been quite so accurate in my predictions. Without even a recorded vote…wow, a lot of hill rats out there with low quant GREs, it seems. Maybe the House will want to trade this out for something more popular—birthday wishes to Ahmedinejad and Kim Jong-un, maybe?: seems about our status at the moment. Not good news.

Footnotes [7]

[1] Funding for OPOSSEM and the Political Methodology summer meetings might have been a stretch, but given the dependence of all of those quantitative national security projects on state-of-the-art statistical methodology, not much of a stretch.

[2] Insert obligatory Neimöller quote here.

[3] Maybe they are reading my blog! Yeah, right…

[4] And yes, you ANES folks should be afraid, very afraid. On the other hand, by its own Maoist self-criticism exercise, the Republicans so royally messed up their polling in 2012 that Barak Obama was easily re-elected under what should have been a challenging  economic environment, and from the GOP perspective, the re-election of Obama leads to horrible things like the nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan to important national security positions, so maybe we need the ANES as well.

[5] Look, Republicans, if one of your own rising stars criticizes the GOP as having branded itself as “the stupid party“, can you really blame academics from failing to flock to the banner? You gotta give us something to work with, people! And Jindal’s Louisiana is a regular Athenian Academy compared to what we’re dealing with in Brownbackistan. Besides, contrary to stereotypes, political science departments tend to be among the least liberal of the social sciences and humanities, according to most of the surveys [I think that] I’ve seen.

[6] Direct links to ICEWS have disappeared from the web…which is what happens when a DARPA program is successful. Just Google “ICEWS” for the secondary links, though those Wired stories have lots of the facts wrong.

[7] Sorry, haven’t figured out how to do these automatically so they link; project for a later date.

[8] Studies of the sexual behaviors of primates were disproportionately targeted, as I recall.

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