May 04, 2006
KBH versus the social sciences

I was sent this Inside Higher Ed article about our own Senator Hutchison chairing a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Science and Space. It's amusing in the way that a person trying to score points about a topic she clearly knows nothing about is amusing, if you can get past the fact that she has the power to do something about her little fit of pique.

“U.S. legislatures picking senators before the 17th Amendment?” Hutchison said incredulously to Arden L. Bement, director of [the National Science Foundation (NSF)]. “How can you say this is that important?” She did, however, concede that the topic is “probably very interesting.” (While the NSF is best known for its work in the physical sciences, it in fact has a long, Congressionally authorized history of supporting work in the social sciences.)

Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy at Brown University, certainly thinks so. She and a collaborator were awarded $212,000 each by NSF to establish the U.S. Election Database for the years 1871-1913.

Schiller, who was reached by phone and had no idea Hutchison would attack her research, said she was once a legislative staff assistant for the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who actually was a social scientist, and that “I’ve seen projects I wondered about, but this is worthwhile.”

Schiller said there is currently no aggregate record of “who served in the legislatures, where they came from, how long they served, and what they did. It’s a whole chunk of history we don’t even have, except for Mark Twain’s ‘Gilded Age.’”

It goes on from there, with KBH wondering why we're not doing more to compete with India and China, Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens grumbling about science education, and John Sununu complaining about the NSF in general.

Now, I don't have a problem with what Sununu was doing. I don't share his philosophy, of course, but at least the desire to kill NSF springs from a small-government mindset that has some consistency to it, in theory if not in practice. Seems a bit peculiar to me to be fretting about six-figure grants in times of twelve-digit deficits, but hey, at least it's a philosophy. Stevens was off on his own little tangent there, doing nothing in particular. It's a bit hard to imagine anyone was paying attention to him.

I really have no idea what Hutchison was up to. I understand the need for committees like this to exercise oversight on agencies like the NSF. Even those piddling $212K grants add up after awhile, and it is the taxpayers' money regardless of the amount. I guess I just feel like if you're going to question the details of a piece of scholarship, you ought to come prepared first. Have one of your staffers do a little research to see if anyone you consider reputable thinks this study you're criticizing has any merit, for instance. Maybe, I don't know, read the abstract or something. Surely some pre-work is called for, no? This looks a lot more like fishing - and grandstanding - than oversight to me. Sadly, that's about what I'd expect from KBH.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 04, 2006 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

KBH really does think she knows a lot about science. She thinks she knows a lot about space science (NASA) and nanotechnology. I'm not saying she does, I'm saying SHE thinks she does. Also, the Bush administration has basically given NSF marching orders to focus on engineering, so KBH probably is being Bush's bully on this panel.

Posted by: muse on May 4, 2006 7:13 PM

This looks a lot more like fishing - and grandstanding - than oversight to me. Sadly, that's about what I'd expect from KBH.

And no doubt it looked that way to Barbara Radnofsky's people too. :)

Sadly, that's what "oversight" is much of the time, on both sides of the aisle. Pols. What are ya gonna do?

Posted by: kevin whited on May 4, 2006 9:47 PM