There has been a flurry of activity on the blogs and a few emails from our professional association (The American Political Science Association) on a potential funding cut or outright elimination of Political Science funding from the National Science Foundation.
One of our top journals also ran a “virtual” issue, putting a bunch of NSF funded studies online.
The Midwest Political Science Association has suggestions on how to support the NSF.
Out of professional solidarity and a sincere belief that the NSF political science program is a good investment, I feel like I should withhold any criticism of the program. Then I remembered I have no blog readers.
Points 1: Why the fuss?
The NSF political science program is very small. Why such heated debate over a relatively small program? A few conversations with colleagues in the hallways came up with a few possibilities.
Conjecture 1: Anti-Intellectualism. Or we could say a more general hostility towards government funding of research. But this wouldn’t explain why political science has been target.
Conjecture 2: Lack of understanding of political science research. Listening to partisan pundits on TV makes me hate politics. Interestingly, many of the critics of NSF-political science have undergrad or (and in the case of Rep. Flake) MA degrees in political science. At least one friend mentioned that many universities teach undergrad political science that is divorced from the process of conducting research. The big difference between what we practice and what we preach might be problematic.
Conjecture 3: Stay out of my business. Political scientists study political institutions and politicians. Politicians don’t like being the subject of study. I’m sure I could make a much more nuanced point on this, but you get the gist.
Conjecture 4: Marketing. Failure of our profession to “market” our value. I’m always struck how good economics profession is in circulating working papers and getting research highlighted in the press. I see a lot less of this in political science. I think the bloggers at the Monkey Cage and the recent Scholars Strategy Network are actually doing a real service to the profession (and society).
Point 2: How can we make the NSF and political science better?
There is a really interesting NBER working paper (gated) the examines NIH funding. This made me think about potential reforms of NSF-Political science...if it survies.
A few quick points. Defending the NSF-PS program by showing that the funding has led to some great research reminds me of a conversation I had with an administrator about graduate school funding. Would a sixth year of graduate school make a student’s dissertation better? Of course, but is that really our standard? More inputs will (hopefully) lead to more outputs.
Some suggestions that will help both evaluation of the NSF and have some positive impact on political science research.
- Include information on funded and unfunded projects. Having information on not only what is funded, but what is passed up for funding is necessary to evaluate the NSF. Pretty obvious stuff.
- The NSF could do a better job in making data available. While the NSF requires grant applicants have a data sharing plan, the NSF could either house replication data or require grantees to provide active links to data. A nice example of this is the NSF funded, Time Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS). http://www.tessexperiments.org/
- TESS also provides a nice template for how to require researchers to specify the study design and hypotheses. This not only gives clear information on the projects that are funded, it provides accountability for researchers.
- Require the publications from NSF studies to be made publically available. See here.
These are all very modest ideas that have been articulated in more details elsewhere. But it is possible that some of these arguments are new to my sole reader.