Last week, our former university president Mark Yudof quipped that “Americans spend more on potato chips than research – maybe they like the flavor better.” We haven’t checked Mr. Yudof’s math, but his points are well-taken. First, research budgets have been lean, particularly in the social sciences. Second, our research sometimes unearths truths that our leaders and citizens may find distasteful, particularly in the social sciences.
The Society Pages is built on the belief that social scientific information, analysis, and perspective is vital and necessary for policy makers, the general public, and the continued health and betterment of society. Yet producing this knowledge and insight requires some degree of resources and support. Today, one of the key U.S. sources of financial support for that work —the National Science Foundation—is currently under scrutiny and attack.
On April 15, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith introduced the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), the authorization bill for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This bill, a variation of which was floated last year as well, would impose a devastating 45% cut on the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate–effectively eliminating grant funding for sociology and the other social sciences. NSF review panels have generally done a terrific job identifying important research ideas to fund. Unfortunately, they must often reject a great number of equally important research ideas for lack of funds. A 45 percent cut would indeed be devastating.
Apart from our capacity to fund needed research, the Law & Society Association explains how the proposed bill could diminish the role of scientific experts and increase the role of political actors in setting scientific priorities. If you are a member of the American Sociological Association or another social science association, you probably already received a message encouraging you to contact your local Congressperson (and university officials) to reiterate the harm that this bill would do to core social scientific research and analysis. And if you just want to know more about the details of these proposed cuts, the Consortium of Social Science Association’s analysis is a good place to start.
If you like what we do on The Society Pages, please consider acting on behalf of social science research more generally. Having a potato-chip budget has been tough enough. We shouldn’t leave social science researchers with the crumbs in the bottom of the bag.