Tom Coburn’s Grudge

So I'm a little late getting to this, but Tom Coburn is at it again—more successfully this time, it appears. The short version is that Coburn was able to get an amendment through that prohibits the National Science Foundation from funding political science research, with the exception of research that "promotes the national security or economic interests of the United States." I just have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Whose economic interests are we talking about, Tom? I mean thank god government contributes such a negligible portion of Oklahoma's economy (See page 13). Sure this is a petty point, but it does speak to an important issue that political scientists have spent some time working on. What is "good" in terms of the economy—and security for that matter—is often defined in very different ways by different groups across society. So perhaps the Senator would be so kind as to clarify who will be the ultimate arbiter on that issue in the case of political science funding.  
  2. Why political science again? This is not the first time we've seen this show, yet I remain unclear as to why political science specifically is being targeted. Unless I've missed something, there is no comparable amendment to eliminate funding for economics or sociological research. If this were genuinely about cutting "unnecessary" spending, I'd have to imagine that with just a little more effort on Coburn's part, he could be extend his watchful anti-waste gaze to other fields too.  Maybe I just missed this though…

Again, I've benefited personally from NSF funding (though not any longer) Though I do think the particular project I worked on was important, I realize that's not a satisfactory defense for a lot of people. But I'm not entirely sure that such a defense is required. The NSF's purpose is to advance our collective knowledge and understanding of a whole range of subjects—even if we as individuals may not understand the specific research that is being conducted at any given time in any given field, or see its immediate practical applications for that matter. And they're not just giving this money out, either. I applied for a dissertation improvement grant a couple of years ago. I spent a lot of time working on what I believe was a fairly thorough and well thought out proposal, and I was ultimately rejected. This is a highly competitive process, and the NSF isn't just handing out cash to people that put their hands out and ask for it. 

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is an associate 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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