Political science imperiled

Misguided Senator seeks to ban federal research funding.

A spending bill for commerce, justice and science programs is being held up in part by Sen. Tom Coburn, R âÄì Okla., who has proposed banning the National Science Foundation (NSF) from making political science grants. This is a tragically misguided proposal. As our political leaders tackle regulatory reforms in the financial sector, greenhouse gases and international conflict, they must be informed by quality, relevant research. Elinor Ostrom, the political scientist who shared this yearâÄôs Nobel Prize for economics, received 28 NSF grants throughout her career. Her research demonstrated that some public goods, such as fisheries or forests, can be best managed by groups of local individuals working collectively, rather than large corporations or government bureaucrats. Even the military has prioritized political science research through a joint grant program with the NSF âÄî Social and Behavioral Dimensions of National Security, Conflict and Cooperation âÄî which helps commanders understand the dynamics of foreign societies. The University of MinnesotaâÄôs John Freeman has received a separate NSF grant in support of his work to develop technological systems to forecast the outbreak of international conflicts. That a U.S. senator fails to appreciate political scienceâÄôs contribution indicates a need for researchers to tackle real-world problems and actively engage the public and decision makers with their findings. The challenges of modernity cannot be met with less intellectual diversity or a stagnant system of governance; the NSF must maintain a modicum of support for political science.