The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

Congress repeals bill limiting political science research funding

For Congressional members, politics is their lifestyle — but until recently, many were in support of limiting collegiate research of the subject.

In January, the U.S. Congress repealed past restrictions on National Science Foundation funding for political science research for the 2014 fiscal year.

In 2013, Congress restricted National Science Foundation research funding to only projects that promoted national security or economic interests — a contentious restriction that compelled some representatives from UNC to lobby in Capitol Hill.

Political science professor Frank Baumgartner said many politicians are skeptical of their role as research subjects.

“A lot of politicians don’t like to be a part of studies. There’s a lot of hostility toward the economics and political science,” Baumgartner said.

“Political leaders think that political scientists have some kind of angle.”

He said some politicians don’t see the value of research that is more liberal arts-based.

Baumgartner said it’s not uncommon for Congress to be hostile to the study of political science, and there is more of a focus on scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical research.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., proposed a bill four years ago trying to eliminate political science funding from the National Science Foundation, which was $10 million, and redistribute $7 million to the National Cancer Institute, Baumgartner said.

Congress did not pass this bill, but accepted his modified version of restricting funding to only political science research that dealt with national security or U.S. economic interest.

“It was ironic because Coburn used some data in a previous report political scientists had written,” Baumgartner said. “He was using political science research for his fiscal conservatism.”

Professor Jason Roberts said even after the restriction was lifted, the federal government might continue to impinge upon the scope of social science research.

“I do think federal social science research remains under scrutiny,” Roberts said. “The discretionary part of the federal budget has been cut significantly and this increases the competition for scarce dollars.”

Roberts said some members of Congress hold a limited view of political science research and don’t advocate funding.

“There are also some elected officials who do not think that social science research should be funded by the federal government.”

Most political scientists are relieved the bill was not signed, he said.

“I was pleased to see the restrictions on what NSF could fund or review, and most of us in the profession believe that a rigorous peer review process produces better research,” Roberts said.

The foundation will return to its own criteria for political science proposals.

“In accordance with the provisions of … legislation, current proposals to the political science program will be evaluated in terms of NSF’s two merit review criteria, intellectual merit and broader impacts, in the same manner as all other proposals submitted to NSF,” said Debbie Wing, a spokeswoman for the National Science Foundation..

Even though the restrictions have been repealed and the National Science Foundation can continue funding political science projects based on their criteria, some political scientists worry Congress will continue to try to restrict funding.

“In the years to come we can expect more of this kind of thing,” Baumgartner said. “America leads the world in this type of research and when Congress steps in it’s counterproductive.”

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