Rep. David Price Offers Strong Defense of Social Science Research

During last week’s consideration of the FY 15 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, an amendment was offered targeting the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences directorate at the National Science Foundation.  The amendment was yet another attempt to question the value of federally-funded social science research.  Rep. David Price (NC), who remains a member of the faculty at Duke, took to the floor of the House to offer a powerful defense for these programs.

The full statement is below, but one particularly strong fact from Mr. Price’s speech is this: nearly a quarter of NSF-funded Nobel Prize winners in science since 1951 have been recipients of SBE program grants.

Thank you Rep. Price for your support and defense of social science research.


Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. I thank my friend for yielding.

Madam Chair, I rise in strong opposition to these efforts to target the funding for the National Science Foundation’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences directorate (SBE).

The world is changing rapidly, and we need quality research to help us understand how imminent and unforeseen changes in areas such as technology, climate, immigration, and the economy will affect our society and our future. And these things do have policy implications.

We shouldn’t be wasting hard-earned taxpayer money, in fact, on policy solutions that are not rooted in sound research, precisely the type of research that some of these efforts here today seek to curtail.

As a result of research funded by the SBE directorate, for example, we are learning how to better respond to natural and economic disasters, how to improve the educational methods practiced in our Nation’s classrooms, how to expand outreach to children regarding STEM education.

We have learned how to increase the safety of our troops in combat, how to better reduce violence among our young people, and we have expanded our knowledge of how the human mind works through the BRAIN Initiative, led by Ranking Member Fattah and Chairman Wolf.

In this era of Tea Party preeminence and so-called fiscal discipline at the expense of rational policy decisions, taking cheap shots at Federal programs and research projects has become a favorite indoor sport.

I wish my conservative colleagues would spend as much time learning the facts about the programs they deride as they do in preparing the flurry of floor amendments and floor speeches to target them.

Helping policymakers make informed decisions is what NSF’s Political Science Program (PSP), in particular, is all about. Let me just say a word about the SBE’s Political Science Program, which is close to my heart by virtue of my previous life.

The PSP has consistently produced valuable, practical research that informs policymakers and government agencies on issues as vital as natural disaster response, environmental regulation, and foreign policy. Here are a few examples.

NSF’s Political Science Program helps us gain a better understanding of public reactions to natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, which was researched at Rice University, as well as to the BP oil spill, which was researched at Louisiana State University. It has helped Federal, State, and local authorities develop more effective evacuation and recovery plans.

It has supported research on the causes and consequences of terrorist attacks, at Pennsylvania State University and at UNC-Chapel Hill; on competition for natural resources as a driving force in international conflict, research at the University of Georgia and at the University of Colorado; on third-party peacemaking, research at the University of Notre Dame; and on dispute resolution mechanisms that lead to lasting peace, at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa.

But this isn’t just about political science research; it’s about the entire SBE. NSF’s rigorous peer-review process assures that only meritorious proposals are funded.

In an era when a quick Internet search can generate a statistic or an opinion to support any argument, it is more important than ever that we have clear, dependable, peer-reviewed research into the most pressing social, behavioral, and economic questions of the day.

Should you question the quality of such research, I simply note that nearly a quarter–that is 50 of 212–of the Nobel Prize winners in science funded by NSF since 1951 were recipients of funding from the SBE program. Every winner of the Nobel Prize in economic sciences since 1998 has been an NSF grantee.

In short, SBE taps the best minds in the country to help us better understand and address some of the most vexing policy dilemmas we face. The body of work it has produced informs the decisions of America’s first responders, military leaders, regulators, diplomats, and policymakers.

I urge my colleagues to reject misguided attempts to target the work of NSF and, in particular, of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate, which is and will be uniquely valuable in informing our country’s policy decisions as we face the future.