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NSF Cancels Political Science Grant Funding

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is well-known for his hostility to global warming science. But he also has it in for research in the social sciences — geography, business administration, economics and political science. In 2011 he put out a report calling for the elimination of social science spending, along with $3 billion in other cuts to the NSF. (The report also poked fun at a bicycle study by UC Davis researchers).

Then in the 2013 budget he got his wish. A Coburn amendment eliminated NSF grant funding for political science:

Senator Coburn (R-OK) submitted an amendment (SA 65, as modified) to the Mikulski-Shelby Amendment (SA 26) to H.R. 933 (Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013). The amendment places unprecedented restriction on the national research agenda by declaring the political science study of democracy and public policy out of bounds. The amendment allows only political science research that promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.”

Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years.

The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure. Adoption of this amendment demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the breadth and importance of political science research for the national interest and its integral place on the nation’s interdisciplinary scientific research agenda.

Singling out any one field of science is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation. And shackling political science within the national science agenda is a remarkable embarrassment for the world’s exemplary democracy.

According to Coburn, money spent on social sciences would be better spent on physical sciences so as to improve America’s competitive advantage against Europe and Asia. This is a really bizarre world view. If you compare America to the political backwardness of China, or the near-collapse of the EU, it is pretty clear that fields like economics and political science are indeed vital to America’s competitiveness.

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