Senior House Leader Questions Federal Funding of Social Science Research

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Publication date: 
22 February 2013

Echoing House action taken last year to eliminate funding for political science research and the climate change education program at the National Science Foundation, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said in a speech earlier this month that “Funds currently spent by the government on social science – including on politics of all things – would be better spent helping find cures to diseases.”

Last May, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to eliminate FY 2013 National Science Foundation funding for political science research and its Climate Change Education Program. In response, the American Institute of Physics and five of its Member Societies joined more than 120 organizations in signing a letter sent to senators stating:

“eliminating support for specific disciplines, such as the House did with respect to political science, sets a dangerous precedent that, in the end, will inhibit scientific progress and restrain our international competitiveness economically and with regard to national security. Congress should exercise its oversight responsibilities, but second-guessing the scientific process could have a chilling effect on scientists and young people considering a future in science. The country cannot afford to lose the incredible talent, experience, and energies of its scientists, regardless of their discipline.”

The letter was sent by the Coalition for National Science Funding, to which AIP and several of its Member Societies belong. While the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill was passed by the House, no further action was taken on a final version of this funding legislation.

Excerpts from Cantor’s February 5 speech follow:

“There is an appropriate and necessary role for the federal government to ensure funding for basic medical research. Doing all we can to facilitate medical breakthroughs for people like Katie should be a priority. We can and must do better.

“This includes cutting unnecessary red tape in order to speed up the availability of life saving drugs and treatments and reprioritizing existing federal research spending. Funds currently spent by the government on social science – including on politics of all things – would be better spent helping find cures to diseases.”

The Ranking Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) issued the following statement in response to the Majority Leader’s remarks:

“I’m starting to feel like a broken record but I’m just going to keep saying it - the social sciences are important. They help us understand what we do, why we do what we do, and how we can do things better. There is almost always a social sciences angle in the most important issues of the day like energy, national security, and health. For example, in disaster preparedness and response preparation, the social sciences helps us understand how people respond to risk, and how they respond differently to different ways of communicating risk. This knowledge helps emergency management planners develop the most effective strategies for keeping members of their communities safe from natural disasters. And then once the immediate danger has passed, social science helps us understand how individuals and communities respond to these highly stressful events over the long term.

“The Political Science Program at NSF, funded at roughly $11 million per year, advances knowledge and understanding of citizenship, government, and politics. Data from national longitudinal surveys help us understand the changing face of our own democracy and what can be done to promote civic engagement and voting among the general public. I firmly believe that it is in the interest of the American taxpayers that their leaders understand what their constituents believe and why, and attend to removing barriers to participation in our great democracy.

“Political science research supported by NSF also helps us understand foreign societies and governments, including the societies and governments of countries such as Iran and China. When the leaders of countries such as Iran posture about war and nuclear weapons, is it not in the interest of the American taxpayer that our own nation’s leaders understand what is motivating those foreign leaders and where we have the most leverage to negotiate or take other actions?

“I do agree with the Majority Leader that biomedical research is critically important to the health and well-being of our citizens. But I do not agree that federally funded research should be considered on an either/or basis. Biomedical research is important, social science research is important, energy research is important, and defense research is important. The list goes on and on. We need to be discussing how to fund all of this important scientific research, not how to get rid of it.”