Last year, fiscal hawk Senator Tom Coburn stuck his economic talons into waste at the National Science Foundation. Scientists, alarmed at the prospect of losing funding, circled the wagons while the usual kooky progressive suspects claimed because Coburn had an 'R' in his political party, he must be anti-science.
In actuality, he was being incredibly pro-science. He was actually trying to get the NSF to fund more science. He isn't some lawyer on a cultural bender, he is a medical doctor who understands the value that science research has brought to America. He just didn't think playing Everquest 2 was science. And he was right. While the loudest and shrillest in science media sought to make it a 'Republicans hate science' issue, actual scientists who aren't media mavens quietly agreed - the NSF, with 'science' in its name, should not be spending money analyzing the habits of Farmville players, since the creators of Farmville have clearly done just fine understanding their users.
In the aftermath of World War II, the government saw the value of what science could do and set out to formally guide it. They do just that with dozens of overlapping agencies funding basically the same stuff, with no clear boundaries, but their reach has grown and now the majority of research is funded by taxpayers indirectly, but the changing whims of political administrations directly. Because the goals of politicians are political, that has gradually meant including social science as 'science'. Obviously the social sciences have value but if you go to an older university they are located in the humanities buildings and not the science ones. There is a reason for that. They have different missions than science.
Tom Hartsfield is a physics Ph.D. student at the University of Texas and argues that while political science, for example, has value, he and his peers in physics or life sciences or earth sciences should not have part of a very finite budget siphoned off for philosophical issues like "how power affects empathy" and the "outlook on life and political ideology". Fund them, to be sure, but not as part of the NSF because it "does not and cannot follow the rigorous requirements of reproducibility, testability and objective truth required of science."
NSF Should Stop Funding Social 'Science' by Tom Hartsfield, RealClearScience
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
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