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Fwd: [Carlist] NSF urged to stop supporting social science research

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  • Wendy Ann Hathaway
    Sorry for any cross-postings. Please read the story below regarding NSF funding and hard science . I hope anthropologists, especially we applied
    Message 1 of 1 , May 16, 2006
      Sorry for any cross-postings. Please read the story below regarding NSF funding and "hard science".
      I hope anthropologists, especially we applied anthropologists, weigh in on the subject. 

      ---------- Forwarded message ----------
      From: Janelle S. Taylor < jstaylor@...>
      Date: May 16, 2006 12:34 PM
      Subject: [Carlist] NSF urged to stop supporting social science research
      To: H-MedAnthro@...
      Cc: Carlist@...

      An alarming development...
      Janelle Taylor

      See the article online at

      Science 12 May 2006:
      Vol. 312. no. 5775, p. 829
      DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5775.829a

      News of the Week

      Senate Panel Chair Asks Why NSF Funds Social Sciences

      Jeffrey Mervis

      Why is the National Science Foundation (NSF) funding a study of a
      women's cooperative in Bangladesh? Why are U.S. taxpayers footing the
      bill for efforts to understand Hungary's emerging democracy? And why are
      social scientists even bothering to compile an archive of state
      legislatures in a long-gone era when those legislators chose U.S.

      Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), chair of a panel that oversees NSF
      and a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, put those
      and other sharply worded questions to NSF Director Arden Bement last
      week during an unusually combative hearing on the agency's 2007 budget
      request. Hutchison signaled that she will be taking a hard look at NSF's
      $200-million-a-year social and behavioral sciences portfolio, which
      funds some 52% of all social science research done by U.S. academics and
      some 90% of the work by political scientists. Hutchison made it clear
      during the 2 May hearing that she doesn't think the social sciences
      should benefit from President George W. Bush's proposal for a 10-year
      doubling of NSF's budget as part of his American Competitiveness
      Initiative (Science, 17 February, p. 929). And she suggested afterward
      to Science that she's open to more drastic measures.

      Warning shot. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) questions the value
      of some NSF-funded research.

      "I'm trying to decide whether it would be better to put political
      science and some other fields into another [government] department," she
      said. "I want NSF to be our premier agency for basic research in the
      sciences, mathematics, and engineering. And when we are looking at
      scarce resources, I think NSF should stay focused on the hard sciences."
      Last week's hearing was not the first time Hutchison has taken a shot at
      NSF's support of the social sciences. In a 30 September 2005 speech
      honoring the winners of the annual Lasker medical research awards, she
      backed a doubling of NSF's budget but added that social science research
      "is not where we should be directing [NSF] resources at this time."
      Hutchison tipped her hand a few months before the hearing by asking NSF
      officials for abstracts of grants funded by the Directorate for Social,
      Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) going back several years. But
      the harshness of last week's attack caught the community by surprise,
      leaving social scientists and their supporters scratching their heads
      about how best to respond.

      "In some ways, it's SBE that tackles the most challenging scientific
      questions, because its research investigates people's behavior and
      touches on the most sensitive issues in our society," noted Neal Lane, a
      physicist and former NSF director now at Rice University in Houston,
      Texas. "So I'm not surprised that it's been hard to articulate how it
      connects to innovation and improving the nation's competitiveness."
      Aletha Huston, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas,
      Austin, who wrote a letter to Hutchison before the hearing defending
      NSF-funded work by herself and colleagues at UT's Population Research
      Center, points out that "if you want to understand how to remain
      competitive, you need to look at more than technology, . at the
      organizational and human issues that play a role."

      Hutchison says she hasn't decided how to translate her concerns into
      legislation. One option would be to limit spending for the social
      sciences in the upcoming 2007 appropriations bill for NSF. Another
      approach would be to curtail the scope of NSF's portfolio in legislation
      enacting the president's competitiveness initiative or reauthorizing
      NSF's programs.

      In the meantime, says sociologist Mark Hayward, who heads the UT
      population center, it would be a mistake for social scientists to ignore
      her concerns. "We have to be persistent and consistent in our message,"
      says Hayward, who along with Huston hasn't heard back from Hutchison.
      "We can't just say, 'My goodness, she's not paying attention.' "

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