Monday, February 25, 2013

Renewed Political Threats to Defund Social Science Research

Over at Legal Planet (here), Dan Farber analyzes new legislation in the House that would prevent the National Science Foundation (NSF) from funding social science research. One pretext for the legislation is that the NSF is funding silly projects, which no doubt is sometimes true; but the examples given by legislators, and quoted in Dan's post, do not seem to fit that mold. Moreover, as Dan explains, the cost savings to the federal budget from abolishing the grants would be miniscule:
The NSF budget for social science research is three-quarters of one percent of the NIH budget for medical research, and only about three percent of the total NSF budget.  It is also about one-third of one-thousandth of military spending. The federal government could probably generate equivalent savings if the Pentagon ordered cheaper pencils and paper clips.
As a Co-Principal Investigator on one current NSF grant (studying the effects of climate change on institutions for allocating water in snowmelt-dependent irrigation systems in Kenya and Colorado) and a current applicant to NSF for another project, I have a dog in this fight. But I'm really not all that worried. Republicans in the House try to kill off NSF funding for social science research every year, and even when they succeed in passing legislation in their own body, it always seems to die in the Senate. I wonder if NSF has given anyone a grant to study this trend?

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