I wanted to comment a bit on the U.S. Senate’s passage of Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) amendment barring the National Science Foundation from funding most political science research. This is pretty shocking on many levels, but one of the more disturbing questions is, out of all the social sciences — indeed, all the federal expenditures — why was political science singled out?
Perhaps because we don’t complain. A few weeks ago, I wrote:
It’s regrettable that some political leaders have chosen to scapegoat this research, but more regrettable that there is so little reaction from political scientists and their allies. As scholars who study political phenomena, we should hardly be surprised when a group with little political power and less will to fight back is singled out.
This description was even more accurate than I knew at the time. Last year, after an earlier effort by members of Congress to de-fund political science, a group of DC-area political scientists wrote a letter to the leadership of the American Political Science Association (APSA) urging them to engage more directly in lobbying. At that point, it appeared that APSA was doing little in response to attacks on political science other than encouraging members to write to their members of Congress. The letter noted that some of our sister social sciences are much more directly involved:
The American Economic Association has a government relations office plus a faculty government relations committee. The American Psychological Association web site indicates it has three government relations offices. By comparison, APSA has little presence on Capitol Hill.
In fairness, it’s not the case that APSA conducts zero lobbying. As executive director Michael Britnall explained to me in an e-mail, they have an internal team that meets directly with members of Congress on issues of importance to political science, including this most recent NSF amendment. He apparently spent a lot of yesterday meeting with some senators face to face. APSA is also a member of the Consortium of Social Science Associations and the National Humanities Alliance, which lobby on such issues.
But the impression I’ve received from many to whom I’ve spoken on this issue is that APSA is not nearly as active in these areas as other social science organizations are, and we haven’t remotely tapped our full potential. (As Jonathan Bernstein notes, we should have built-in advantages over the other social sciences in terms of access to Congress.) Couldn’t APSA put together some sort of party for all the political science BAs working on Capitol Hill? Do they inform members of Congress about the scholars in their districts who’ve received federal grants and published with them? Do they invite scholars to come lecture on vital national issues and invite members of Congress and their staffers to attend? Do they put senior professors in touch with their students who are now members of Congress? Do they coordinate reunions of APSA Congressional Fellows and their former bosses on Capitol Hill? Do they collect information about the number of our students using NSF-funded projects like the ANES or NOMINATE scores and share that information with legislators?
It’s not that any of us can’t be doing this sort of thing on our own. But generally, there’s a coordination problem that keeps us from doing this in an organized matter when it counts, and that’s kind of why we have a national organization in the first place.
Anyway, if you’re upset with Sen. Coburn, put yourself in his shoes: You’re an elected official and you want to burnish your reputation as a deficit hawk and a foe of government waste, but you want to do so in a way that is least costly to you politically. What’s your best target? The guy that doesn’t punch back. I don’t agree with Coburn’s agenda here, but his logic is unassailable.
[Originally posted at Mischiefs of Faction]