U.S. House Votes to Defund Political Science Research at NSF

May 16, 2012

by Paula Skedsvold

On May 10th, the U.S. House of Representatives debated the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill on the House floor and voted 218-208 to eliminate funding for political science research funded by the National Science Foundation. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced the amendment stating that it was “oriented toward ensuring, at the least, that the NSF does not waste taxpayer dollars on a meritless program.” 

According to a letter sent to all House members on May 9th by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), “NSF political science research grants have contributed to important research on democratization, radicalization and terrorism, disaster response, and voting behavior.” 

Before reaching the floor, House appropriators had approved a FY 2013 budget of $7.3 billion for NSF, $299 million over FY 2012 and $41 million below the President’s budget request.  No amendments targeting individual grants, areas of research, or entire research disciplines had been offered, a concern of the SBE research community during last year’s appropriations process.

However, despite the endorsement of basic science research at NSF through an increased appropriation for FY 2013—an amount that remained similar even after the amendment eliminating political science research and other measures passed— the singling out research disciplines remains a significant concern to scientists.  Science once again is politicized, creating a chilling effect on the scientific enterprise.

While Congress has an important oversight responsibility, it must ensure that the scientific process critical to advancing knowledge and keeping our country safe is protected. NSF’s merit review process utilizes independent experts to identify the best scientific ideas and opportunities. 

Rep. Flake, who holds a graduate degree in political science, acknowledged the benefits of the research in “advanc[ing] the knowledge and understanding of citizenship and government, [and] politics,” but explained that NSF should not fund the research because much of it is conducted at research universities with large endowments.

The battle now moves to the Senate. Senators will consider their version of the CJS appropriations bill within the coming weeks, so science advocates are joining together to protect the merit review process at NSF and oppose targeted cuts to any area of science which is important to this country. 

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