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Friday, November 06, 2009

Senators against (Political) Science

Yesterday, the United States Senate voted down the so-called "Coburn amendment," which would have eliminated National Science Foundation support for research in the field of Political Science. Actually, I'm being polite. The resolution offered by the Republican from Oklahoma used this wording:
"Coburn Amendment 2631 – Prohibits the National Science Foundation from wasting federal research funding on political science projects."
Tough stuff.

The Senate defeated this amendment 62-36.

Locally, citizens are represented by Senators who side with Coburn. Mitch McConnell (a Political Science graduate of my Department) voted Yea, as did Jim Bunning and Indiana's Dick Lugar and Evan Bayh. All of those Senators are Republicans, except for Bayh.

John McCain, who is about to make an appearance at University of Louisville, voted with the losers to kill NSF funding to Political Science. Perhaps someone in the packed house can ask him about his vote.

On October 19, the President of the American Political Science Association, Henry E. Brady, outlined his organization's case against the Coburn amendment:
Senator Coburn’s amendment stems from a mistaken belief that political science research is neither scientific nor contributes to the well-being of our nation and its citizens. Science does not come in degrees; it is not logically possible for one science to be “truer” than another. Political science is a “science” because like all the sciences its research methods are based on testable hypotheses and evidence collected according to well-tested criteria that are subject to peer review and verification. The National Science Foundation has led the way in ensuring careful peer review and in applying the highest scholarly standards to all areas of research, including political science.

Political science funding at the National Science Foundation is a remarkably modest amount of funds – just some $9 million. It generates transformative results vastly beyond this small investment. Basic political science research funded by the National Science Foundation has contributed to the nation in myriad ways. Just last week, Dr. Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist at Indiana University, was awarded a Nobel Prize for research funded by the National Science Foundation. She found that collective use problems such as the overuse of shared resources and the degradation of water quality can be effectively handled by local communities rather than by relying exclusively on the central government.

Similarly, 13 of the 17 National Science Foundation and Department of Defense co-supported projects requested by Secretary Gates that examine threats to U.S. interests in the world and identify effective responses, are being carried out by political scientists.

The U.S. National Election Study, also supported by the National Science Foundation’s political science program, has operated since 1948 and is the only reliable, sustained source of information about Americans’ participation in their own political system. The National Election Study has provided assistance to government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Elections Assistance Commission. Pollsters of all political persuasions have supported the ANES over the years because it provides the only reliable baseline for long-term trends and for innovative thinking about how to measure political participation and involvement.

Other political science research is helping federal, state, and local authorities charged with developing effective evacuation plans understand decisions that citizens make in response to natural disasters.

Still other research has helped identify the causes of ethnic strife and civil wars, the impacts of different electoral institutions around the world, and the causes of international disagreements and wars.
Disclosure: I'm a member of the APSA -- and have participated in selection processes and events pertaining to the McConnell Center.

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