Today in “Defunding the Social Sciences” News

by John Sides on June 5, 2012 · 1 comment

in Academia

This is a round-up of links.  We begin with the most recent call to eliminate federal funding from both political and social science, from Charles Lane at the Washington Post.  Here are some of today’s responses: Seth Masket, Jon Bernstein, Keith Poole, and Henry.  Let me summarize the responses thusly:

  • What Lane dislikes about social science—value-driven research, the inability to conduct experiments—isn’t unique to social science.  Lane writes that “Society is not a laboratory.”  Alas, neither is the entire world and physical universe.  Also history.  So a lot of “hard” scientific subjects should be defunded to, by this standard.
  • What Lane likes about “hard” science—like experiments—is a frequent component of social science.  This is why the American Political Science Association has an Organized Section on Experimental Research.  For an overview, see this article—“Experimentation in Political Science”—by Rebecca Morton and Kenneth Williams.  Lane argues that experiments in the social sciences cannot conclusively disprove or prove hypotheses.  But again, the same problem exists in the hard sciences.  The controlled conditions of any laboratory don’t always resemble the real world.
  • As Henry argues (and I think this is an overlooked point), without federally funded social science, the issue isn’t whether there would be social science funding.  There would be.  The question is whether, given the agendas of its private funders, the research would be as publicly valuable.  I do not think so.

Lane mentions that eliminating this funding would save $247.3 million.  That was the FY 2011 budget for the NSF’s Directorate of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (see p.140 of this pdf).  Thus, Lane would cut funding to all of the divisions within this directorate.  It includes the Social and Economic Sciences division of the NSF.  Here is a list of its programs, including among others political science; economics; law and the social sciences; sociology; decision, risk and management sciences; and methodology, measurement, and statistics.  This directorate also includes the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences.  This would include psychology, anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science, archaeology, geography, and a few others.  The directorate also includes the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, which isn’t really concerned with social science per se, so I guess it would just be collateral damage.  I include those links so the full scope of what Lane proposes is clear.

Finally, here is a link that you can click to write to your Senator and ask them to preserve funding for the NSF political science program, as well as related information from the American Political Science Association.

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