Monday, October 19, 2009

Should the National Science Foundation Fund Social Science Research?

Of course, but what % should go to economics or political science or sociology?
The New York Times Arts Section tackles a piece of this issue today. It focuses on political science. Has this field lost its bearings by imitating economics? I don't believe this.

When I was a graduate student, I asked a prominent economist what knowledge had the economics profession generated that justified why a set of economists should continue to receive NSF funding. He looked at me with disgust, thought for 2 seconds, and then said that Milton Friedman's work on hyperinflation and Black and Scholes work on option pricing were sufficient to justify an infinite flow of future NSF funds for economics.

So, I want to ask the political scientists the same question. If the Republicans go "cold turkey" and cut off your funds, what basic research will stop? I know that political scientists are running a series of interesting field experiments. I know that field experiments cost serious money to pay for the treatments (i.e the free newspapers).

While I don't love the way this Congressman is phrasing his question, it is not a crazy question to pose. Social Scientists should be ready to answer such questions. What is our "value added"? It ain't our charm.

UPDATE: Here is a photo I took at SeaWorld. The Killer Whale "believes" and so do I.