The Coburn Amendment Aftermath

by Henry Farrell on March 22, 2013 · 8 comments

in Political Science News

I have a piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education on the consequences of the Coburn amendment.

Contrary to Coburn, Flake, and Rep. Darrell E. Issa of California, the U.S. Congress could use more good social science, not less. Take any urgent policy question—school choice, taxation, global warming—and you will find a multitude of quarreling voices, each trying to shout down the others. Many of those voices belong to lobbyists paid to defend their clients’ interests or to people whose political commitments trump their commitment to the facts. It is very difficult to figure out who is telling the truth and who is not.
Publicly financed social science imposes a tax on dishonest arguments. The NSF requires good research methods and hard results, which can puncture inflated claims. It pushes for well-documented and accessible research, making it easier to figure out who is dealing from the bottom of the deck. Among those recognizing the benefits of NSF-backed research is … none other than Tom Coburn himself, who turned to NSF-supported data gathered by the political scientists Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones when he wanted to defend the Government Accountability Office.

Other pieces from around the WWW.

The Economist – “Research into the effectiveness of American policies can only improve them. Going after researchers is a way of shooting the messenger.”

Tim Noah at the New Republic – “As the author of a book on income inequality, my thoughts turn to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, whose “major funding source” is NSF. … Most of what we know about intergenerational trends in income mobility—i.e., how much people move up and down the income ladder—comes from the PSID. … Solving America’s problems is hard enough when you can identify what those problems are. When you can’t, it’s impossible.”

Abby Rapoport at The American Prospect ” If you care about scientific process generally, it’s not hard to see why the amendment is an ominous portent for other NSF programs. ”

Dave Weigel at Slate – “The new amendment, which passed via a voice vote, saved $13 million. I[n] return, it might cripple the American National Election Study.”

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones – “Sen. Tom Coburn has been on an anti-political science kick for years for no real discernible reason. “Theories on political behavior,” he said a few years ago, “are best left to CNN, pollsters, pundits, historians, candidates, political parties, and the voters, rather than being funded out of taxpayers’ wallets.”

Dan Drezner at Foreign Policy – “Now, from a pure material interest perspective, this should make me happy. I’ve never received a dime in NSF funding, and I’m sitting on a pretty good grant for the next 5-10 years, so from a strictly relative gains perspective, I acquire more influence in the discipline. Furthermore, the national security exemption means that whatever scraps the NSF throws to political science will go to my preferred subfields like international relations and comparative politics.The thing is, though, that I love political science. I want to see more quality research being done, and the NSF cutoff pushes things in the opposite direction.”

Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction -”Couldn’t APSA put together some sort of party for all the political science BAs working on Capitol Hill? Do they inform members of Congress about the scholars in their districts who’ve received federal grants and published with them? ”

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