Archived Webinar: US Funding Picture for 2016

Getting funding for social science isn't supposed to be task for Sisyphus. (Image: Detail from 1869 cartoon by Honoré Daumier)
Getting funding for social science isn’t supposed to be task for Sisyphus. (Image: Detail from 1869 cartoon by Honoré Daumier)

What will the current year mean for social and behavioral science funded by the U.S. government? Given the annual rituals of the past few years, where legislators routinely suggest that social science research is a luxury that an overstretched federal budget can’t afford and that it’s not high quality anyway, can the social and behavioral science community (and other embattled fields, such as geoscience) expect any positive news? Or will we see new attempts to politically filter what constitutes valuable science?

Mark Vieth
Mark Vieth

In this archived version of a webcast held on February 17, Mark Vieth — senior vice president of the Washington government relations firm CRD Associates – addresses these issues and others, including what the just-released federal budget from the White House means for federally funded research. He is joined by Michael Todd, the editor of the SAGE-sponsored website Social Science Space. Vieth’s slides for the presentation appear below.

In addition to the audience questions answered during the webinar, Vieth answers some questions that did not fit into the hour-long event; his answers appear below the slides. This webinar, “Washington, D.C. and Social and Behavioral Science: The Picture for 2016,” is the first of an occasional series of webinars looking at the nexus of government and academe.

Vieth was a staffer in the House of Representatives for 14 years, including serving as Chief of Staff for then-Congressman Robert A. Borski of Pennsylvania. Since he joined CRD in 2002, he has specialized in bringing diverse associations, foundations, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders together to advocate for common objectives. Of greatest interest in the context of this webinar is his role as coordinator of the national Social and Behavioral Science Collaborative which is fighting to keep all government-supported science be reviewed by scientists and to be funded properly.

  1. Given recent problems with funding political science, I hesitate to apply. What are the prospects this year and what are the critical stages of legislation that I should monitor over the next several months?

Mark Vieth: The [National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, or SBE] political science portfolio, a small but important group of grants, was targeted several years ago by then-Representative (and now Senator) Jeff Flake from Arizona and then-Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma. They were successful in including a provision in a large spending package that in effect prevented SBE from funding political science research for a year. However, since then, there have been no legislative or budgetary attempts to eliminate, reduce or restrict SBE political science research. Opponents of SBE often use examples from the political science portfolio to attack SBE, but last year there were no amendments specific to political science that were offered to either the America COMPETES Reauthorization bill or the FY16 Commerce Justice Science Appropriations Act. During this year’s current grant application cycle, which involves FY16 funding, the NSF may fund political science research out of the SBE account, without any restrictions, so political scientists should not hesitate to apply for grants this fiscal year.

  1. Have presidential candidates taken positions on funding for NSF? How many congressional candidates discuss science funding during their campaigns?

Presidential candidates have talked primarily about increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health, but former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has publicly expressed support for increasing funding for NSF.  Science magazine recently published an article that helps to answer this question:

  1. So this issue is very political, since we’re discussing advocacy, Supreme Court replacement, presidential elections. Educators, parents and taxpayers are discovering that social and behavior sciences are used to obscure how much [science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM] are no longer to be taught as bodies of knowledge, but instead as constructivist practices, critical theory and open-ended and untaught problem-solving challenges—in effect, reducing basic academics in STEM curriculums in favor of focusing on changing attitudes, behaviors, cultures, and altering neurological functioning rather than teaching knowledge and encouraging individual thought and achievement. We’re seeing this happen now. Comment?

In many respects, all legislative issues that come to votes in Congress become political, and we cannot avoid this. The best way to insulate against the politicization of issues to secure bipartisan support for the issues. I am not aware of any evidence that social and behavioral sciences are in some way “obscuring” STEM education, but this might be an interesting research topic for the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to explore. As mentioned during the webinar, the “S” in STEM stands for “Science,” and it is universally accepted among all scientific societies and associations that “Social and Behavioral Science” is indeed a “Science” and therefore part of STEM.

Want the detailed story of social science funding by the U.S. government since world War II? Click HERE for a timeline!

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