Thursday, March 21, 2013

Congress Is About to Shut Down NSF Funding for Social Science

According to a report in today's Chronicle of Higher Education (here), the Senate approved a measure to finance the federal government through the end of the year, which includes an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would prevent the National Science Foundation (NSF) from approving grants  for social science projects unless the agency could certify that the research would promote national security or national economic interests. In support of his amendment, Sen. Coburn pointed to several social science research projects that he claims are a waste of taxpayer dollars, including studies of voter attitudes toward the Senate filibuster and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches. Senator Coburn complained that, even if such issues are "interesting ... to ponder or explore," they are not a good use of taxpayer dollars.

As part of a bill that would only be in effect through the end of the year (assuming it also passes the House), Coburn's amendment would not have a long-term effect on federal funding for social scientific research. However, it could create a somewhat greater risk that such a restriction might be made permanent going forward.

As a Co-Principal Investigator on one current NSF-funded project, I obviously support continued federal funding of social science research, and consider Sen. Coburn's amendment short-sighted and "penny wise but pound foolish." On the other hand, in an era during which federal funds increasingly are scarce, including for all scientific research, it's hard for me to gainsay an argument that funding for social science research projects, generally, should take a back seat to, say, cancer funding. That said, the total savings from cutting NSF funding of all social science projects (even without exceptions for those that would contribute to the national economy or national security) would be pretty miniscule as a percentage of the overall budget. In 2013, the total NSF spending on research in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences is just under $260 million (see here). That's less than the cost of a single F-22 Raptor fighter jet (see here, p. 59).

No comments:

Post a Comment

I actively moderate comments for spam, advertisements, and abusive or offensive language.