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NSF political science funding

- October 7, 2009

Just to follow up on Lee’s note, I clicked through to Sen. Coburn’s list of NSF-funded projects that he’d like to cut, which included:

– $91,601 to conduct a survey to determine why people are for or against American military conflicts.

– $8,992 to study campaign finance reform, with the stated intent of providing “a basis for assessing future proposed changes to campaign finance regulations.

– $958 for a direct mail survey of the residents of Celebration, Florida regarding their feelings of living in privately operated city.

The first two topics seem pretty important to me. And, as for the third . . . hey, it was only $958! Maybe that was a typo? $958 doesn’t seem like a real NSF grant.

I can see a lot of good arguments for cutting NSF funding: For example, as Sen. Coburn’s press release points out, we could do without the National Election Study–there are a lot of other polls out there. And lots of NSF money goes to university professors, who are mostly Democrats. I can see why a Republican senator might not like that. Beyond this, many would prefer government spending to be reduced for all purposes, and the National Science Foundation is just a particular example.

But, really, the list of “wasteful projects” seems pretty lame to me. Golden Fleece material, it ain’t.

I also wonder why Sen. Coburn is picking on political science. His main point seems to be that this isn’t real science like physics or geology, and it’s not anything helpful like medical science. But then why isn’t he talking about shutting down sociology, economics, etc etc? Or is poli sci just the first step? Maybe it’s just a publicity grab, but if so I think he could’ve found some better examples of wasteful funding than the examples above. Isn’t there some Federal funding for transgender theater or something like that, something more headline-grabbing than a study of campaign finance??

P.S. No, I don’t think that the National Election Study’s funding should be zeroed out. I think we learn a lot from having this regular survey. And, especially with all the difficulties nowadays with survey nonresponse, it’s good to have some baseline surveys such as NES and the General Social Survey that put in lots of effort to reach people.