If you’ve read my first post, you know I am a graduate student in the Political Science Department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We have some professors doing some incredible things that are contributing not just to our understanding of political behavior, but human behavior in general. One of our professors is a pioneer in the field of human rights. The work done in our department can help us understand why people behave as they do, why they do or do not vote, what types of political communication are effective, what types of post-atrocity justice work the best, and loads and loads of other things.
Much of this work costs money to do. There are various places to receive grants, including the National Science Foundation. Though we receive grants, they are nothing in comparison to what other fields receive. But there is little that can be studied without funding. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) hopes to eliminate NSF political science funding. The same funding that gave 28 grants to Elinor Ostrom that helped her do the research that led to a Nobel Prize.
I know Coburn probably doesn’t care about Nobel Prizes, but I think it demonstrates political scientists should not be cut off. I noticed he doesn’t want to cut off funding from other social sciences, just political science. How is that even possible? Political science is closely associated with economics, sociology, anthropology, history, law, psychology, and even hard sciences, like biology, as I wrote about here. This portion of political science research puts a dent in Coburn’s claim that political science isn’t science enough. Also, the fact that he’s willing to fund other social sciences shows that this whole amendment is pretty ridiculous. I also wonder what he thinks of public policy research. Is that worthwhile, though it is a field of political science? Should they quit studying the outcomes of different policies?
I don’t like the idea of cutting funding or support from any field of academia, especially when that field happens to be the one I’ve studied for that last seven years.
Here is a pretty scathing critique of Coburn’s flawed logic. It seems more like he has an axe to grind than actually believes political science funding is a problem. He doesn’t like the findings of the Human Rights Project. He doesn’t like who some of the grants are given to. Though this can be said of any field, as I do remember a stink being raised about stem cell research, greenhouse gas research, and other Republican bugaboos. Perhaps he just wants funding to be approved by his party.
Here is one of the worst things he says:
Theories on political behavior are best left to CNN, pollsters, pundits, historians, candidates, political parties, and the voters, rather than being funded out of taxpayers’ wallets…
That’s right, theories of political behavior should be left to pundits. That’s certainly more scientific than the meticulous gathering of data and analysis of the numbers. Or the years qualitative researchers spend in other countries in order to understand their culture, language, and history so that they may have the best conclusions possible. Let’s just let Olbermann, Beck, Limbaugh, and Joe the Plumber try to understand political behavior, because that makes so much sense.
Coburn had some other gems in support of this publicity stunt. He said funding political science was going to “waterboard” our children with debt. The roughly $9 million for political science research is what is drowning us in debt, really? Also, when saying the Human Rights Project shouldn’t have funding because they found the United States violated human rights, you probably shouldn’t use words like “waterboard.” Plus, if you buy the Republican explanations of waterboarding, it is a harmless simulation that is totally legal. So our children should be fine, even with the insanely large $9 million in political science funding.
I feel the need to further comment on the diversity of the field of political science. Though each area of political science has different divides and debates, there is a sort of general one that goes on throughout the field. It is between those political scientists that conduct business as though they were in the hard sciences (which can be thought of as the positivist movement) and those that feel we need to attempt to have a positive impact on the world we study (which can be called the Perestroika movement, briefly discussed here). The division, for my money, is a good thing. It creates a wealth of methodological diversity. It also provides solid responses to Coburn’s argument. Positivist political scientists are very scientific in the way they approach their research, just as the scientists in the fields Coburn commends are. But there are also those political scientists that would try to do research to help solve the problems the world faces. Coburn argues there is no benefit from political science, but this movement demonstrates he is wrong. It is the goal of many political scientists to understand the world to improve it.
I like that Coburn goes after frivolous earmarks, but this isn’t one of those. This funding isn’t something a senator uses to try to curb favor with his state or money for a friend. This is a modest amount of funding to try and better understand the human condition and the world we live in. It is to try and solve problems, such as the refugee problem, how to prevent human rights atrocities, and why armed conflict occurs.
I just don’t get what Coburn’s deal is. Let’s hope this amendment is crushed.
Enjoy political scientists and their great work.
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