Tom Coburn’s Grudge, Part II

Via Jennifer Diascro's Twitter feed: The Economist has an article up addressing the specific targeting of Political Science Research by Senator Coburn. The article addresses a point that I've brought up a couple of times in the past (see here for example). Specifically, why only political science?

The Economist:

The real debate seems to be over what is of value. For many Republicans the answer is nothing having to do with political science. Yet it is hard to see how that discipline is any more frivolous than—or even all that different from—economics, sociology or anthropology.Mr Coburn's measure wouldn’t touch NSF funding for other social sciences. But this is the fourth time since 2006 a Republican has singled out political science for cuts.

If we look closer at those efforts, the picture becomes a bit clearer. Mr Coburn, for example, has particularly objected to studies on American attitudes to the filibuster, at a time when Republicans are using the filibuster routinely. Mr Flake had likewise complained about research on climate-change negotiations. When Mr Coburn first proposed cutting off funding in 2009, he complained that NSF money had gone to fund The Human Rights Data Project, which, he noted, had “concluded that the United States has been ‘increasingly willing to torture enemy combatants and imprison suspected terrorists,’ leading to a worldwide increase in ‘human rights violations’ as others followed-suit.” Mr Coburn even groused that Paul Krugman had received NSF grants more than 15 years earlier. Presumably that was because Mr Krugman went on to become a liberal columnist and not because the research won him a Nobel prize.

In all of these cases, the research risked calling into question the wisdom of policies supported by the Republican Party. In none of the cases did Republicans argue that the studies were flawed. They appeared to simply object to financing research that might contradict their point of view.

I would add that my impression is that political science research is probably the one field that is most likely to draw upon and combine insights from all of these other fields. Perhaps I'm mischaracterizing the work of scholars from these other disciplines, but if this view is accurate then it further hurts the credibility of Coburn's claims to be going after wasteful spending. If the idea is to get as much bang for our buck as taxpayers, political science seems like exactly the right field to invest in. But does this matter? Probably not. Most people just don't know or care enough about this to really see the problem, and for these people Coburn's credibility is really a non-issue, so he can still claim to be simply fighting the good fight against bloated government budgets. 

Finally, I'd urge all of my Americanist and comparativist colleagues to start building up the national security implications of their work. After all, we must remain ever vigilant to safeguard our democratic institutions from infiltration by the communist scourge. Maybe ANES can just add a question asking "Are you a communist spy?" or "Are you a terrorist?" and Coburn will be satisfied. 

Michael Flynn

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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