COMMENTARY | In the last several years, it has been a Congressional practice to vote to prevent National Science Foundation (NSF) grants from going to political science research. It was always assumed to be a Republican resolution against liberals, a budget-cutting move, or simply an attempt by Congress to protect the natural sciences from encroachment by social scientists. But it is more likely a case of retaliation by Congress for low marks that political scientists give our national legislature.
Most of you have probably never heard of the expert survey of the House of Representatives and Senate by the Center for Congress that Indiana University publishes. But Congress may be aware of it. The first year the study was published in 2006, political scientists gave the legislature a D. The next two years, the 41 experts gave Congress a grade no higher than a C+.
In 2012, it was no different. You can see the 2012 results of the Center for Congress survey here. There are few As and Bs, and a lot of Cs and Ds (with a few Fs) from political scientists. On the question of “Does Congress generally fulfill its national policymaking responsibilities?” 82.7 percent gave the House and Senate a “D” or an “F” (and there were more “F’s” than “D’s”). And I bet Congress wasn’t too happy about those low scores from political scientists. Maybe they were made enough to punish political scientists.
The move against political scientists isn’t a budget saver. It just prevents one group of professors from applying for National Science Foundation grants. Political science only gets a tenth of 1 percent of all NSF grants. Not only that, but it is less than 5 percent of the total award given to all social science research (which totals $250 million).
And the natural scientists aren’t immune from political shots; witness the debate over stem cell research or the “Golden Fleece” Awards that Sen. Bill Proxmire, D-Wis., used to give scientists.
It is assumed that Republicans did it because they feel political scientists are a bunch of liberals. But the journal “Political Science,” which featured a series of electoral forecasts, found the community split on whether President Barack Obama would win, or if Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would prevail. It was not a cheerleader group for Obama.
Even though Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake are leading the charge, the whole Senate passed the bill, and that body is controlled by Democrats. Given that this move doesn’t block funding for the other hundreds of millions in social science, one can only assume this is payback for getting slammed in surveys by political scientists.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.