Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has had a beef with my discipline for quite some time. He claims political science is trivial compared to scientific research and therefor no federal funds via the National Science Foundation should be spent on it. He said that the funds should go to the National Cancer Institute instead. Actually, what is trivial is the $10 million dollars each year that the NSF spends on political science research. As The Economist notes, the $10 million to political science is a drop in the bucket compared to the $5 billion that goes to the National Cancer Institute. Coburn says that only political science research that can show that the research will strengthen national security or the economy, setting a standard that no other discipline funded by governement funds has to meet.
The American Political Science Association has responded and in a statement, the association wrote:
Singling out any one field of science for elimination is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation. And singling out political science for elimination from the national science agenda would be a remarkable embarrassment for the world’s exemplary democracy...Political science research addresses questions that are fundamental to our national interest...Political science is the only discipline devoted to learning how to make democracies work better.
On Wednesday, Coburn's amendment was adopted by a voice vote in the Senate. It was the fourth time that a Republican had singled out my discipline for NSF defunding since 2006.
What is going on? Politics is what is going on. Apparently NSF funded research has questioned the efficacy of the filibuster and has documented the effects of climate change. As The Economist wrote, "In all of these cases, the research risked calling into question the wisdom of policies supported by the Republican Party. In none of the cases did Republicans argue that the studies were flawed. They appeared to simply object to financing research that might contradict their point of view." One could construe this as a broader GOP disdain for scholars and expertise. Or it could be as The Economics blog noted, that this part of the soul searching of a party that has lost 5 of the 6 popular votes in national elections, a party that has lost its way. The overall grant rate at NSF is 9%, the research that gets funded is good because it has gone through rigorous review processes--maybe too good.