Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do Political Scientists Deserve Tax Dollars?

. Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Unlike some, I can't get too worked up about Senator Coburn's attempt to eliminate NSF funding for political scientists, even though I think he has no idea what political science actually is. (Hint: it's not the same thing as Fox News and CNN.) Why? For three reasons:

1. Check out Coburn's voting record: he's opposed to virtually all federal spending on almost anything. He opposes the Farm Bill despite the fact that his state benefits from it greatly. He opposes no-bid defense contracts. He has a "Waste of the Day" feature on his web site. In short, it's not a vendetta against political scientists. He just wants to shrink the size of the government almost any way he can. This is one of those ways, but he's trying a million other things too.

2. I can't imagine this will have any effect. Remember, Obama has been increasing NSF funding (including funding for social sciences), and the NSF gives so little money to political scientists (~ $9mn/year) that no one can really say that we're breaking the bank. Plus, Coburn is in the minority in his own party, which is in the minority in both houses of Congress, so this amendment is probably DOA.

3. I've been trying very hard to come up with a great reason for why political scientists deserve to have their research subsidized by the federal government, and... well... you try it. Sure, I think it's important work. Sure, I think it's intrinsically valuable. But beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and most of our work does not speak to policymakers, much less the public at large. Not only that, but many of us are sort of proud that our work is so esoteric or inapplicable, and/or let our personal biases get in the way of objective analysis. Given that, I'm not sure that it is in the public interest to subsidize it. The vast majority of political science research is done without the aid of the NSF anyway, so it's not as if losing NSF support will sink the whole discipline.

So do we enjoy those occasional grants? Yes. Do we as a discipline really need that $9mn/year? Probably not.

That said... it's only $9mn/year. So just let us keep it.

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Do Political Scientists Deserve Tax Dollars?
 
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