President’s Update

President’s update

US cuts Funding to National Science Foundation’s Social Science Programs

Here’s something surprising – the US National Science Foundation recently went to Congress, as they do every year to discuss their $7.5billion budget – and they actually advocated for a cut to their own social science budget.

What the…?

Yes, the National Science Foundation asked Congress to cut their programs into social, behavioural and economic science by more than 11 per cent.

The most any other program was proposed to be trimmed was 2 per cent.

Of course social scientists and those who rely on their research, such as science communicators, were more than a little perplexed, and were curious to know what was motivating this.

And, as we all know, in the absence of facts, rumours fill the gaps.

So according to Democrat member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Eddie Bernice Johnson, “I do not doubt this steep cut was dictated by the White House,”

The NSF’s decisions on how to allocate its budget is generally decided by scientific advisers, but there is a real concern that this year there were political motivations behind the cuts.

An article in the Pacific Standard, science and health writer Francie Diep stated that while President Donald Trump isn’t known for having any particular views on social science, the same can’t be said for other congressional members of his party.

Representative Lamar Smith, the chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology that oversees the NSF, for example, has long and vigorously criticized social science studies as a waste of NSF money, and has tried several times to limit social science funding.

Of course social and political science research includes pesky things like climate change studies into what motivates climate change denial, and the political-ideological divides that see most Republicans as denying climate change as being caused by human actions.

The members of the US Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have been divided on social science spending, with some having criticised it as “silly studies”, but other defending it.

This is not the first time cuts or proposed cuts to NSF’s social science programs has made headlines. There have been similar moves, largely by republicans, to cut social sciences with political sciences in particular being targeted, or to limit funding to things deemed to be in the national interest.

The point is, of course, that similar directives of where funding is spent and not spent, are often present – but are rarely so overt, and we all know that political decisions become precedents for other decisions by other governments. Yes, I’m talking about ours.

Every year when the ASC releases its list of grants red-neck yokel politicians try and get cheap coverage by criticizing some as silly or frivolous, and calling them a waste of money. These include a feminist surfboard and the experiences of LGBTI people in natural disasters and spatial dialogues: public art and climate change.

That politicians can decide what research gets funded with public money, as it is in the national interest, I can agree with – but when they make decisions based on what is in their own interests – I think we should all be worried.

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