Rep. Jeff Flake tried and failed this week to get his colleagues in the House of Representatives to slash the budget of the National Science Foundation, proposing an amendment to a 2013 spending bill that would have cut more than $1 billion from the agency’s funds.
But unable to convince his fellow House members that the government needs less research on physics, engineering and other fields, he chose a lower-hanging target: social science studies with easy-to-ridicule titles.
And this time, he was persuasive.
By a vote of 218-208, the House Wednesday night backed an amendment that would bar the NSF from spending any of its 2013 funds on its political science program, which allocated about $11 million in peer-reviewed grants this year. Explaining the amendment on the House floor Wednesday evening, Flake said that given his colleagues’ reluctance to slash the agency’s overall budget — the House defeated his earlier amendment by a vote of 291 to 121 — Congress should ensure, “at the least, that the NSF does not waste taxpayer dollars on a meritless program.”
But in a particularly troubling sign for political scientists and advocates for academic research (including several scholars posting about the bill at the Monkey Cage), several of the projects that Flake singled out for ridicule (“These studies might satisfy the curiosities of a few academics, but I seriously doubt society will benefit from them”) touch on issues such as whether policy makers do what citizens want, and why young people don’t seem interested in going into politics.