Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to increase the National Science Foundation’s budget to $7.4 billion for the 2015 fiscal year, a 3.2 percent increase against the Obama administration’s proposed increase of 1.1 percent. However, before the appropriations bill was passed, an amendment was added by Rep. Lamar Smith (R–Texas) to specifically cut NSF funding for social sciences research. While it’s commendable that the House has increased NSF funding more than two times the proposed increase, redirecting funds away from the social sciences is a mistake. When reviewing the bill, the Senate must keep in mind the importance of research in social sciences and its impact on society.
In March, President Barack Obama and his administration submitted the 2015 fiscal year budget to Congress for review. The proposal included a 1.1 percent increase in the fiscal year budget for the NSF. When reviewing the budget proposal, the House decided to increase the NSF’s budget 2.3 percent more than proposed by the Obama administration. As the NSF redirects more than one-fourth of the federal support to academic institutions, it’s imperative the foundation be well-funded.
While an increased budget benefits the NSF, an amendment to redirect social science research towards natural science inhibits the NSF’s autonomy. Amendment proponents assert that natural science research significantly outvalues social science research, but this notion doesn’t account for the arduous process to receive funding. Those interested in NSF grant money must submit extensive proposals to a committee and receive approval before given funds. Over 40,000 proposals for research, education and training projects are received by the NSF each year with only 11,000 proposals accepted. Given their experience in scientific fields, members of the selection committee are better qualified than congressman to analyze whether research is worth of investment.
The committee contains valid reasoning for supporting social science research. Proponents of more science research cite that natural science constitutes research that is “necessary for economic growth.” While natural science deserves substantial funding, this shouldn’t undervalue social science research. Scholars at Rice University studied public reactions to natural disasters, and this information has been used to aid evacuation plans for future emergencies. Smith argues that some research money, like $50,000 to study 17th century Peruvian lawsuits, could be redirected, so the NSF should provide reasoning for the research’s value. While the committe is qualified to make funding decisions, it’s possible that a few of the 11,000 yearly proposes could be efficiently redirected. However, if money is to be redirected, it could be beneficial to both social science and natural science research. If money is taken from social science funding, it should be redirected towards others areas of social science research.