An Update from Capitol Hill on the NSF Political Science Program (and a Bleg)

by John Sides on May 20, 2013 · 7 comments

in National Science Foundation

On Friday I spoke to a staff person for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology about the prospects for National Science Foundation funding of political and social science research.  The next legislative step is the re-authorization of the American COMPETES Act, which will likely occur in late June or early July.

This staff person said that there was a very real threat that political science funding or social science funding could be eliminated in the legislation produced by the committee.  In his opinion, the committee’s chair, Lamar Smith, would not necessarily push for either of these himself.  But if another committee member proposed an amendment eliminating this funding, it might be tough to defeat.  This staff person said that some House Republicans are looking to cut discretionary spending wherever they can.  He also said that political science in particular was a relatively easy and powerless target.  And it does not help that few of the Republican members of this committee have universities in their districts.  Moreover, even if political and social science funding survives the reauthorization, there is always the possibility for limitations to come via the appropriations process in the fall.  (See this post at Mischiefs of Faction.)

In short, there is still real cause for concern.  I asked him what we could to do help.  He said that what he needs is this: “bite-sized” stories about political science research, and especially research that would be appealing to more conservative members of the committee.  I asked him for examples of the kinds of topics that might qualify.  He suggested research about national security, transparency, and how to make government smaller and/or smarter.  He noted that he already uses the story of Elinor Ostrom’s research, since her work on managing common-pool resources often emphasizes mechanisms other than a centralized governmental authority.

Some commenters on this blog have wondered whether stories about specific projects were good enough—suggesting that political science needed to make a broader case for its value writ large, or emphasize how NSF funding supports big datasets or graduate education.  I asked this staff person about those things.  He said that stories about specific projects were better and more persuasive (though of course there is no guarantee that they will persuade).

I would like to ask our readers to leave examples of any potentially relevant research projects in comments or send them via email to me or the blog.    I can then forward them on to this staff person.  Some examples, mainly from other social sciences, are in this brochure (pdf) compiled by the NSF itself.

Obviously, there are many other lines of communication currently open between academics, universities, and scholarly associations on the one hand, and legislators on the other.  But individual scholars are best-positioned to identify compelling research.  Please take the time to help if you can.

{ 7 comments }

Ryan Enos May 20, 2013 at 11:20 am

Good call John, thanks for taking this up. Here is a good recent example:
http://gking.harvard.edu/files/gking/files/censored.pdf
about censorship by the Chinese government. Two reasons I think this type of research is appealing: 1) it is “techie”, 2) it targets a country with major national security interest for the U.S.

Bill Harshaw May 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I’m struck by the idea many Republican congresspeople don’t have a university in their district “And it does not help that few of the Republican members of this committee have universities in their districts.” There’s about 2600 colleges and universities in the country. Maybe some grad student could do a map of colleges versus congressional districts, then the lobbying could be more targeted. My impression is that lobbying by home district people, whether contractors for some military hardware, or protecting the interests of car dealers or insurance salespeople, is the most effective possible.

Anon May 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I would love to contribute stories, if only these NSF funded investigations were not behind a paywall.

Maybe restate announcement as: “Those readers privileged with institutional acess to publicly funded science, please contribute stories.”

(ok I’ll look for pre-prints…)

j May 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm

I think this work by Jacob Montgomery and Josh Cutler is a perfect example:

http://pan.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/2/172

Using Item Response Theory that education researchers have been using for decades political scientists are adapting methods used in the GRE (where a test adapts to your correct or incorrect answers) to more efficiently ask questions in public opinion researcher. This is all about minimizing costs and using time and money more efficiently.

Jim Johnson May 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Gee whiz, imagine conservative GOP Senators liking Lin Ostrom’s research that also establishes that neither privatization nor markets are the default mechanisms in dealing with CPR problems! Apparently the problem with bite-sized summaries of social science research miss the point of the research.

Anon May 22, 2013 at 12:40 am

Whatever we think of it, the research on the Democratic Peace certainly had an impact during the Bush years. Some of it was funded by the NSF. Of course, this may not be politically helpful to Republicans these days…

AnotherNon May 23, 2013 at 10:41 am

Rather than trying to recover funds in a classic NIMBY move, perhaps political scientists should push Republicans to cut ALL social science and humanities funding. Why not the NSF altogether? Make the case that we need to take auterity to it’s logical conclusion. This is unlikely because there are too many “serious” folks and interests involved, but I guarantee it would garner 1) media attention and 2) the focused attention of other fields. As it stands, political science is a weak and novice voice in a massive shouting match–time for new tactics.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: