Congress Increases Climate Research Funding!

Unexpected Tree Hugger!
Unexpected Tree Hugger!

…even if they didn’t intend to.

The Republican War on Science has morphed into a more general war on knowledge.  As Dan has pointed out previously, the GOP has now declared war on social science funding, and particularly on political science.

Last night, the Senate accepted the amendment of Senator Tom Coburn (R – Olduvai Gorge) forbidding the National Science Foundation from funding political science research.  This provision, which will undoubtedly be accepted by the House, could mean the end to important data sources such as the American National Election Survey.  Ignorance Is Strength, I suppose.  But the Coburn Amendment does have an important exception:

The amendment allows the government to pay for political science research only  if the director of the National Science Foundation certifies the research as  “promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.”

Well, that’s terrific for climate research!  Climate change might be the greatest national security threat that the United States faces.  The increases in resource scarcity, conflicts, and disasters brought about by climate change pose a major challenge to American national security policy.  And climate also directly impacts the economic interests of the United States: we will have to find some way to de-carbonize the economy while maintaining economic growth, and the potential for clean energy lies at the heart of American economic interests.

So to the extent that there is money for political science research, climate policy researchers figure to get a higher percentage of it than before.  The NSF will no longer be able to find out anything concerning elections, or democratic institutions, or poverty, or local government, or any of those other irrelevant things.  But it can fund climate policy research up to the skies (so to speak).

Thank you, Senator Coburn!

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “Congress Increases Climate Research Funding!”

  1. Jonathan — This raises an interesting statutory interpretation question: What does it mean to “carry out the functions” of the political science program? Does that just mean eliminating that particular office within NSF and any funds specially allocated to this program? Or more broadly, does that mean that NSF has to eliminate all funding relating to the program’s mission (from its website) of basic research that advances knowledge and understanding of citizenship, government, and politics”? If its the former, many of the same projects can probably be funded through other programs. If the latter, it could mean stopping research in other fields, for instance, research by economists on political corruption and economic growth, or by sociologists about civic involvement.

    I’m a little less optimistic about the “national security” exception than you are. I agree that in principle it applies to climate change, but the Director may be reluctant to make a lot of use of the exception since it will undoubtedly result in intense grilling at House oversight hearings.

    Dan

  2. Jonathan — This raises an interesting statutory interpretation question: What does it mean to “carry out the functions” of the political science program? Does that just mean eliminating that particular office within NSF and any funds specially allocated to this program? Or more broadly, does that mean that NSF has to eliminate all funding relating to the program’s mission (from its website) of basic research that advances knowledge and understanding of citizenship, government, and politics”? If its the former, many of the same projects can probably be funded through other programs. If the latter, it could mean stopping research in other fields, for instance, research by economists on political corruption and economic growth, or by sociologists about civic involvement.

    I’m a little less optimistic about the “national security” exception than you are. I agree that in principle it applies to climate change, but the Director may be reluctant to make a lot of use of the exception since it will undoubtedly result in intense grilling at House oversight hearings.

    Dan

  3. “In 1969, the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy held a hearing at which the physicist Robert Wilson was called to testify. Wilson, who had served as the chief of experimental nuclear physics for the Manhattan Project, was at that point the head of cern’s main rival, Fermilab, and in charge of $250 million that Congress had recently allocated for the lab to build a new collider. Senator John Pastore, of Rhode Island, wanted to know the rationale behind a government expenditure of that size. Did the collider have anything to do with promoting “the security of the country”?

    Wilson: No sir, I don’t believe so.
    Pastore: Nothing at all?
    Wilson: Nothing at all.
    Pastore: It has no value in that respect?
    Wilson: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. . . . It has to do with are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. . . . It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending. ”

    Elizabeth Kolbert, “Crash Course”, New Yorker

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/14/070514fa_fact_kolbert?currentPage=all

  4. “In 1969, the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy held a hearing at which the physicist Robert Wilson was called to testify. Wilson, who had served as the chief of experimental nuclear physics for the Manhattan Project, was at that point the head of cern’s main rival, Fermilab, and in charge of $250 million that Congress had recently allocated for the lab to build a new collider. Senator John Pastore, of Rhode Island, wanted to know the rationale behind a government expenditure of that size. Did the collider have anything to do with promoting “the security of the country”?

    Wilson: No sir, I don’t believe so.
    Pastore: Nothing at all?
    Wilson: Nothing at all.
    Pastore: It has no value in that respect?
    Wilson: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. . . . It has to do with are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. . . . It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending. ”

    Elizabeth Kolbert, “Crash Course”, New Yorker

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/14/070514fa_fact_kolbert?currentPage=all

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Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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