Thursday, March 21, 2013

First they Came for the Political Scientists....

...and I didn't speak out
because I wasn't a political scientist.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate voted to restrict NSF funding for political science. An amendment that was submitted by Tom Coburn (R-OK) reads:
Purpose: To prohibit the use of funds 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.
Of course, "the economic interests of the United States" is a nebulous, undefined term, which is perhaps the way Coburn prefers it.

In a March 12th letter to NSF, Colburn wrote:
"Studies of presidential executive power and Americans' attitudes toward the Senate filibuster hold little promise to save an American's life from a threatening condition or to advance America's competitiveness in the world." Coburn wrote in a letter to NSF director Subra Suresh last week explaining his proposal.
Of course, that's true of much of the research intended to develop pure knowledge. Do grants to differential geometers promise to save anyone's life or advance America's competitiveness in the world? They do, but not perhaps for decades, but the likes of people like Colburn cannot see that far.

After the voice vote approving the amendment, Colburn said in a statement:
"I’m pleased the Senate accepted an amendment that restricts funding to low-priority political science grants. There is no reason to spend $251,000 studying Americans' attitudes toward the U.S. Senate when citizens can figure that out for free."
Yes, Americans are certainly serious students of the intracicies of Congress, the shifts in Executive power, the knowledge of other political systems (especially "American Idol"). Aren't they?

FRED Graph
To me it looks like Colburn is attacking knowledge itself? (To you?) If it were just about the budget, he's issue a statement saying something like "we regret our inability to fund the valuable work of the many dedicated scholars across our nation, but these are dire times for the federal government and we must cut back where we can."

Even if federal receipts are at a 60-year low (because, you know, we can't fairly tax millionaires).

But Colburn isn't saying that, is he? No, he's saying the very essence of their scholarship isn't valuable.

And that's dangerous. What will he next decide isn't worth it? Theoretical physics? Mathematical biology? Climate science?

This is how nations decline, people. It's exactly how they decline.


Victor Venema said...

Doesn't the American Constitution have an article on the freedom or research?

In Germany such an amendment would be unconstitutional.

Article 5: Kunst und Wissenschaft, Forschung und Lehre sind frei.

Art, science, research and teaching are free.

David Appell said...

No. Freedom of speech, yes. Freedom of assembly, yes.

But freedom to be funded by the government -- no.

Victor Venema said...

The German constitution does not give the obligation to fund science. The government is free to fund the national science foundation, but can not forbid them to fund something.

Freedom of science has the further advantage that universities are exempt from Freedom Of Information requests because this could be used for the harassment of scientists to keep them from doing their work.

Maybe an idea for a constitutional amendment. Constitutions are there to solve the problem: "First they Came for the ..."

Cokehead said...

This crap is what makes me so incensed with politics. With the rest of the world dealing with fallout from the euro crisis, there's only one safe harbor to invest in. And yet we hold our hands back hoping a miracle saves the economy instead of taking risks and pushing forward. It's infuriating to watch.