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June 15, 2012 / Daniel Kramer

Too Much Information

I think we all feel occasionally inundated with information. It can be distracting, and it is questionable whether more information necessarily leads to better decisions. It seems the House of Representatives agrees. Thank god for common sense in DC. From here.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research and to curtail the government’s ability to monitor economic and demographic trends by eliminating the American Community Survey. A parallel appropriations bill is now awaiting debate by the full Senate.

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  1. Mark Largent / Jun 15 2012 11:23 am

    The attack on the funding political science at NSF has raised some eyebrows within NSF, but this kind of thing is happening so frequently that everyone here is starting to ignore it. Last fall a house member tried to kill all funding for arctic and antarctic science, and there have been calls (from Chuck Lane, the opinion writer for the Washington Post) to completely eliminate all funding within NSF for the social sciences.

    What’s interesting about many of these attacks on science funding is the naive notions put forward to support them. Chuck Lane, for example, argued that the social sciences were “soft” and unlike the “hard” sciences like physics, they contain so much room for individuals’ prejudice that they are not really capable of being called science. In reality, we know that human influences pervade all the sciences (and every other human activity) and that the social sciences are, in many respects just as empirical as are most natural sciences. Moreover, the natural sciences don’t (and can’t) study the topics that are investigated by the social sciences, so unless one wants to abandon the a massive amount of incredibly valuable scientific investigation, these calls are just plain silly.

    The good news is that despite (perhaps because of) these kinds of attacks, the social sciences are increasingly respected and valued within NSF. The problems that the foundation has identified as especially important for scientific investigation are problems that inherently involve the social sciences. Nonetheless, the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Division of NSF is by far the smallest division in the foundation – it’s half the size of the next smallest division. So, as important as these sciences are to us, we invest a tiny amount of money into them.

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