Eric Cantor Renews the Call to End Federal Funding of Political and Social Science

by John Sides on February 5, 2013 · 10 comments

in Academia,Other social science,Political science

Eric Cantor today:

There is an appropriate and necessary role for the federal government to ensure funding for basic medical research. Doing all we can to facilitate medical breakthroughs for people … should be a priority. We can and must do better.

This includes cutting unnecessary red tape in order to speed up the availability of life saving drugs and treatments and reprioritizing existing federal research spending. Funds currently spent by the government on social science – including on politics of all things – would be better spent helping find cures to diseases.

Quoted here.  Good thing that disease, mortality, etc. bear no relationship to political institutions.  Good thing that there is no politics in whether and how drugs and medical treatments are developed.

To be less sarcastic and more constructive, here is Evan Lieberman’s book on how ethnic politics shaped national responses to AIDS.  Here is Dan Carpenter’s work on the Food and Drug Administration.  That’s just off the top of my head.

The broader point is that Cantor’s goal, curing disease and saving lives, can be better accomplished by including social and political science alongside the “hard” sciences and medicine.


Snark February 5, 2013 at 3:01 pm

But political scientists are in search of a cure to the disease that is Eric Cantor ….

Cajunjoe February 5, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Thalidomide was kept off the market in the United States by red tape. The FDA required a small thing: proof of safety in pregnant women.

Hans Noel February 5, 2013 at 3:20 pm
longwalkdownlyndale February 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm

I’ll jump on the Cantor bandwagon but only if we make sure the poli-sci money goes to important medical discoveries like curing erectile dysfunction, male pattern baldness and radically changing the serotonin levels in 2nd graders who get bored in school.

RobC February 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Respectfully, if you accept the premise of Cantor’s prioritization, you’ve lost the war. While some political science research may have relevance to life-saving medical treatments, most political science research funded by the Government does not, and that small portion which does will almost always have an impact that is more indirect and speculative than actual medical, biological or biochemical research. If your goal is to preserve funding for political science research, it would be wise to shift the battleground to subjects other than disease, mortality and life-saving treatments.

John Sides February 5, 2013 at 3:52 pm

RobC: I don’t accept that premise, as I’ve made clear in multiple posts. But rather than convince him to accept my premise and my argument, I thought I’d try his premise and my argument first.

publius February 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm

To be less sarcastic and more constructive, here is Evan Lieberman’s book on how ethnic politics shaped national responses to AIDS. Here is Dan Carpenter’s work on the Food and Drug Administration.

These are almost certainly descriptive studies, and those are within (sometimes) the ability of academic political scientists. But anything “analytical” is simply beyond the abilities of the academic community. This funding should be stopped as it is useless (worse than useless, if it leads to something like “broken windows”, which consigned a generation of African-Americans to prison (they were probably being poisoned by lead–at least the data fits better)). Economics is another example–the business cycle Chicago school helped prevent an effective response to the Great Recession. The country would have been better off if all grand economic theory had stopped in 1975.

Ryan February 5, 2013 at 6:31 pm

With all due respect, you really haven’t presented an argument. Just because there are political scientists who study things related to healthcare, it doesn’t follow that funding their research is a more efficient way of improving health outcomes than simply funding medical research. Has anybody else noticed that the bar for what constitutes a good argument drops precipitously around here when the question is whether or not political science deserves public funding? That tendency casts doubt on the legitimacy of political science’s claim to funding. It’s better to respond seriously or not at all.

John Sides February 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Ryan: It’s true, I didn’t really try to present an argument in this post. Maybe it’s because I’ve made the argument over and over and over again across multiple blog posts — when Tom Coburn proposed eliminating the NSF political science program, when Jeff Flake proposed and then succeeded in getting the House to defund the NSF political science program, and when the Washington Post’s Charles Lane proposed eliminating the entire NSF SBE (polisci, econ, sociology, etc.). Perhaps you never read those. Perhaps those arguments wouldn’t meet your standard for “good” arguments. But you can read them (and the arguments of others) by perusing here:

Eric L. February 5, 2013 at 10:39 pm

The government can be more efficient in its research funding allocations than by applying the blunt rule of selecting on the basis of substantive domain. Take medical research, e.g. Most published medical research is false or incorrect, as we learned here:

and here:

False and incorrect medical research can have bad consequences. Such research should not be funded. Therefore, the government should determine ex ante which research will prove false or incorrect and simply not fund those projects. From the savings that will accrue by not funding bad medical studies, the government can obtain the monies to fund social science research (as long as it meets the ex ante non-falsity test) and still come out way ahead on the balance sheet.

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