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Cuts To Political Science Research Blamed on Politicians

Political scientists are the next in line to feel the pinch as the US government tightens its belt. Due to last-minute language added to the 2013 omnibus spending bill by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the National Science Foundation canceled the rest of its funding for political science for the rest of the year.

Political scientists are blaming… politicians:

“It’s hard to imagine that it’s not a factor in the decision,” says Michael Brintnall, executive director of the American Political Science Association in Washington DC, who describes the funding cut as “troubling”. Brintnall says that the NSF notified him about the cancellation on 25 July. Other calls for funding in the NSF division of social, behavioural and economic sciences — which includes political science — are continuing as usual.

The NSF’s decision removes one of the main financial lifelines for political-science research. “This is somewhere between devastating and crippling,” says Henry Farrell, a political scientist at George Washington University in Washington DC and an author of the Monkey Cage, a widely read political-science blog. But Farrell blames the political climate rather than the funding agency for the cut. “The NSF is in an extremely awkward situation,” he says.

Well, yes, it is due to ‘politics’ in a sense. But political scientists should know better: university faculties ultimately depend on taxpayers and their representatives for many of the resources they need for their work. This fact of life is truer than ever when health care and other costs are forcing discretionary spending down. Funding for political science is just another budget line item that needs to be justified. Writing obscure articles for peer-reviewed journals that nobody, not even other people in your discipline, will read is not the best way to do that.

And here’s another thought: making departments in social sciences and other disciplines more welcoming to political conservatives and—horrors!—seriously religious people may help build that bipartisan support without which federal funds will be increasingly hard to get.

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  • wigwag

    Political science and international relations are both bogus fields that should both be zeroed out of the NSF budget. The NSF funds some extraordinary work but funding for political science and international relations diverts funding from fields that really matter.

    An excellent way for universities to lower tuition costs would be to eliminate Departments of Political Science and International Affairs. Then all the newly unemployed professors could join all the laid off journalists fighting for jobs flipping burgers and driving taxi cabs. I wonder if they will be as sactimonious when ensconced in their new professions as they were while doing nothing of value in their old professions.

    • Pete

      Wigwag is so right.

      To which I’ll add that there are a number of other college majors that should also be eliminated, starting the multicultural & diversity area.

    • bpuharic

      One of the charges made against conservatives is they’re anti intellectual.

      Res ipsa loquitur.

      • Jim__L

        It’s amazing what you can learn on Via Meadia’s comments section. Today I learned:

        – Political science is a “science”, and
        – WigWag is a Conservative.

        I bet no one else here knew any of that! 🙂

  • Anthony

    One could posit that cuts consequence of interest group liberalism perhaps – though concept never more than metaphor for system capture i.e., academe captures NSF funds for general university department (though ‘interests capture’ transcends liberal and conservative axis).

  • rheddles

    Here’s another thought. Universities should get off the federal teat. Let the religious people fund them as in the olden days.

    • bpuharic

      How’s that working in Saudi Arabia? Religion is the kiss of death for intellectual freedom..and freedom in general

  • f1b0nacc1

    Political Science = History taught badly

  • bpuharic

    It’s interesting that WRM thinks a free market exists in economics (thus we need to bust unions) but not in ideas (thus we need to force more religious and right wingers into academia)

    I never saw anyone who was religious forced, at the point of a gun, not to become a political scientist. Physical scientists tend to be liberal as well. Perhaps those who question received wisdom are more likely to be liberal, as research certainly indicates.

    guess no one read this paper.

    • Tom

      If you sincerely believe that firepower is the only form of coercion, then you misunderstand much.
      And besides, nowhere was forcing conservatives into academia mentioned.

    • Jim__L

      Experimental scientists and engineers trend Conservative.

      It’s all that dealing with reality instead of pure theory.

  • Robert Kelly

    This is not really a fair interpretation of the manner in which political science – specifically the American politics subfield – has been singled out by Republicans in Congress for NSF cuts. I have been reading this blog for years, because it is intelligent conservatism in a sea of Fox News vapidity, but this is far too blithe. A much fuller debate can be found here:

    • bpuharic

      Agreed. This is similar to funding cuts made by the GOP to the CDC regarding the effects of gun violence, or attempts to defund studies in evolutionary biology.

  • Tom Servo

    They stuck the word “science” in their job description so they wouldn’t have to call it “wankers with nothing to do laying around talking about politics”. As if there is any kind of “Research” that can be done here that is anywhere even closely analogous to actual, scientific “Research”.

    They are wanting to be paid for doing the kind of “research” that most men do with a six pack and their feet up on the couch.

  • RedWell

    I’m a conservative, religious political scientist at a state university. I don’t personally care if my field’s NSF funding gets cut, but this analysis is poorly conceived on multiple levels.

    First, political science is a small portion of the NSF budget and the field was singled out…by politicians. On its face, that looks like the kind of thing strongmen and dictators do. By all means, evaluate NSF funding, but evaluate ALL of it based on a serious study and not a drive-by complaint.

    Second, every field is littered with articles “nobody reads.” Yes, a lot of poli sci research is redundant and arcane. Things need to change, but it’s not as if most STEM journals are making the NYT’s bestseller lists. Scholars need professional outlets and peer review to stay sharp.

    Third, most poli sci faculty are left-leaning, but most of their graduates are conservatives. Believe it or not, most professors move beyond the left/right divide in the classroom. Visit one if you don’t believe me.

    Fourth, conservatives need to be more welcoming to political scientists. I got into this field to address the kind of gap VM points out here, but now I find myself lampooned and ignored by conservatives and believers. Departments typically aren’t actively anti-conservative (though admittedly they can be anti-religious). I know because I was looking for it. On the other hand, conservatives actively discourage the kind of intellectualism that is required to succeed in academia and increasingly insult government-sponsored work. Why would a smart, young conservative want to become a political scientist in that kind of environment? Personally, I’m ready to throw in the towel and escape the endless dissonance between my conservative values of truth and service and American conservatism’s values of private industry, driving pragmatism and personal (if mythical) independence.

    Poli sci has a PR problem, to be sure, and like many disciplines, it is overprofessionalized. But the field also provides a lot of analysis, teaching and challenge that wouldn’t exist with tax payers. Few people want to pay for studies that show how and where politicians are self-serving or what beliefs and interests drive US foreign policy; even fewer want to pay to teach that stuff to the future middle and elite classes. It’s a market failure, for all you armchair economists, but it is necessary. Indeed, judging from the erudition of many comments on this thread, perhaps we need to pay for more, not less, political science.

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