Political Scientists Acknowledge Need to Make Stronger Case for Their Field

Beth McMurtrie in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Back in March, Congress limited federal support for political-science research by the National Science Foundation to projects that promote national security or American economic interests. That decision was a victory for Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma who has long aimed to eliminate all NSF grants for political science, arguing that unlike the hard sciences it rarely produces concrete benefits to society.
Congress’s action has led to soul searching within the discipline about how effective academics have been in conveying the value of their work to the public. It has also revived a longstanding debate among political scientists about the shift toward more statistically sophisticated, mathematically esoteric research, and its usefulness outside of academe. Those discussions were out front at the annual conference of the American Political Science Association, held here last week.
Rogers M. Smith, a political-science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was one of 13 members of a panel that discussed the controversy over NSF money for political-science studies. He put the problem bluntly: “We need to make a better case for ourselves.”
Few on the panel, in fact, seemed to think that political science had done a good job on that front. The association has created a task force—led by Arthur Lupia, a political-science professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor—to improve public perceptions of political science’s value. He said his colleagues could learn from organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which holds special sessions for the news media at its annual conference to explain the work of its members to the public.”