During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the NSFs 2007 budget request, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), chair of a panel that oversees NSF, questioned why the NSF is funding social sciences research. She has questioned this before, but now seems determined to put teeth into her concerns.
Hutchison signaled that she will be taking a hard look at NSF's $200-million-a-year social and behavioral sciences portfolio, which funds some 52% of all social science research done by U.S. academics and some 90% of the work by political scientists. She hasn't figured out which federal agency should fund social science, but doesn't think it should be the NSF, which, she says, should be "our premier agency for basic research in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. And when we are looking at scarce resources, I think NSF should stay focused on the hard sciences."
Social scientists are fighting back. "In some ways, it's SBE that tackles the most challenging scientific questions, because its research investigates people's behavior and touches on the most sensitive issues in our society," noted Neal Lane, a physicist and former NSF director now at Rice University in Houston, Texas. "So I'm not surprised that it's been hard to articulate how it connects to innovation and improving the nation's competitiveness." Aletha Huston, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who wrote a letter to Hutchison before the hearing defending NSF-funded work by herself and colleagues at UT's Population Research Center, points out that "if you want to understand how to remain competitive, you need to look at more than technology, … at the organizational and human issues that play a role."
Posted by Katie Newman at May 17, 2006 9:50 PM