Social Science, Spared Again

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Science  05 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6043, pp. 673
DOI: 10.1126/science.1210207

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Last month, a U.S. congressional committee wisely decided not to cut funding of social science research by the National Science Foundation (NSF), despite an attack that cleverly framed the discipline as “good, just not good enough for NSF.” This claim was rebutted across the political spectrum, by physical and biological as well as social scientists, and in the business sector. In May, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) issued a report arguing that NSF-funded social science should be eliminated. Oddly, however, his report endorsed such funding by other agencies, where, one supposes, it meets a priority test. Indeed, the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Congress itself hire, consult, fund, and contract with social scientists in great number. The senator acknowledged that the country needs social science, just not at NSF. This makes no sense. If the country needs social science at all, it needs NSF-supported fundamental research. NSF funds frontier science in physics that underpins more-applied research supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This intelligent division of labor works equally for the social sciences, making continued funding by NSF of the highest priority.