A couple of weeks before the deadline for new grant proposals in political science were due, the NSF has canceled the program, at least for this grant cycle. No explicit reason was given, but everyone knows why it happened. Back in March, Congress passed the Coburn Amendment to the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, which limits political science funding to research that “promotes national security or the economic interests of the United States.” That’s almost impossible standard to demonstrate, of course, so the NSF just canceled all of the funding, rather than invite endless Congressional hearings about this or that grant proposal. Annual NSF expenditures on political science amount to about $10 million, which is nothing on the scale of government budgets but an awful lot to the actual researchers.
(I don’t want to be needlessly partisan by suggesting that all Republicans in Congress are either dangerous demagogues or complete chowderheads. But Tom Coburn, R-OK, is a shining example of both.)
This is a disaster, and bodes very ill for the future. I certainly wouldn’t want to defend my own research as promoting national security or the US economy. Because, frankly, it doesn’t. Even Coburn isn’t going after physics (yet), but it’s not an unrealistic dystopian scenario to imagine that a criterion like that could be applied across the board to all federal support for science. Conservatives are already up in arms about biologists studying duck penises. (It’s pretty clear that someone working for the GOP has a Google alert that searches for the word “penis.”)
Meanwhile, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has just come out arguing against all public funding for science, full stop. I’m sure the free market will happily step in there and help us out with particle physics and cosmology.