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Commentary: Senator Coburn calls social science research a "waste"

By Meredith Niles - Posted on 02 June 2011

On May 26, Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, released a report titled, " The National Science Foundation Under the Microscope" in which he detailed his perspective on wasteful government funding at the National Science Foundation. In his Press Release, Senator Coburn notes, "Investing in innovation and discovery can transform our lives, advance our understanding of the world and create new jobs." Yet, he spend the majority of the report singling out particular social, behavioral and economic research projects and grants that he considers to be "wasteful". Senator Coburn even goes so far to recommend, "Eliminate NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) Directorate ($255 million in FY 2010). The social sciences should not be the focus of our premier basic scientific research agency."

Senator Coburn's recommendations fail to recognize the role that social, behavioral and economic sciences play in disseminating the innovation, science and technology that he believes advances our understanding of the world and creates new jobs. Economics has long been used as a tool to understand costs and benefits of policies to create more effective and cost efficient programs at multiple levels of government. Social sciences are driving our understanding of the ways in which people cooperate, communicate and innovate together to achieve goals that as individuals we are incapable of doing. In short, without the economic, behavioral and social science research that NSF currently funds we would have little understanding of how technologies and innovations are adopted, what drives that behavior and how people can work together to reduce the very inefficiencies he thinks are such a problem.

Senator Colburn's Press Release can be found here: