Archive for the 'In the News' Category

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Research and Politics

The field of Political Science has been hit hard by an amendment to the Continuing Approriations Act of 2013, which pretty much axes the NSF political science funding mechanism. The money remains with NSF rather than being shifted to the National Cancer Institute and political science research can still be funded, but only if their research is useful for “national security” or “the economic interests” of the United States.

This amendment only applies until the end of this fiscal year, but NSF funding for political science has been on Tom Coburn’s radar for years. Expect more of the same and perhaps even for the rest of the softer sciences.

The links are in presented in order of publication – oldest first:

First, the prequel
New Attempt to Cut NSF Funding for Political Science
March 15, 2013

NSF’s political science program siphons valuable resources away from higher priority research that will yield greater applied benefits and potential to stir further innovation. This amendment does not aim to hinder science, but rather to allocate more support for research that will save lives.
Tom Coburn’s Fact Sheet

The amendment sets up a false dichotomy between medical research and research in
the social sciences that we emphatically reject
Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities

Senate Delivers a Devastating Blow to the Integrity of the Scientific Process at the National Science Foundation
March 20, 2013
Notable Quotes
Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years.

The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure.

Adoption of this amendment demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the breadth and importance of political science research for the national interest and its integral place on the nation’s interdisciplinary scientific research agenda.

Singling out any one field of science is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation.

And shackling political science within the national science agenda is a remarkable embarrassment for the world’s exemplary democracy.

Money for Military, Not Poli Sci
Libbie A. Nelson | Inside Higher Education
March 21, 2013
Notable Quotes
The amendment defunding political science was adopted in a voice vote that surprised many observers. Ending federal funding for political science research has been a longtime cause for some Republicans in Congress, including the measure’s sponsor, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, and the effort has failed many times in the past.

Senate Moves to Limit NSF Spending on Political Science
Paul Basken | Chronicle of Higher Education
March 21, 2013
Notable Quotes
The amendment was proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican of Oklahoma who has sharply criticized the foundation’s spending priorities.

Mr. Coburn sent a letter last week to the NSF’s director, Subra Suresh, listing a series of agency-financed projects he considered a waste of taxpayer money. His list included several involving political science, including studies of voter attitudes toward the Senate filibuster and of the cooperation between the president and Congress.

Projects likely to be affected, he said, include the American National Election Studies, a landmark series of studies and polls dating to 1948. Its current principal investigators are at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Stanford University.

Political Science Research: Singled Out
R.D.N. | The Economist
March 21, 2013

Tom Coburn Doesn’t Like Political Science
Henry Farrell | Chronicle of Higher Education
March 22, 2013
Notable Quotes
The NSF pays for 61 percent of basic research in the social sciences. Publicly supported academic research is, and should be, democratically accountable. Yet politicians have wisely delegated the particulars of funding lines to the scientific community. Politicians are not scientists, and do not have the expertise to judge which research areas and questions are promising and which are not.

The Coburn amendment changes that. It imposes crude political criteria on scientific grant making, arbitrarily decreeing that social scientists cannot get funds for studying key aspects of politics. It is clear that Coburn’s ambitions stretch far beyond the social sciences. In previous reports he has attacked the NSF for purportedly useless research in robotics, biology, and other areas of the natural sciences.

If this precedent is not reversed, it will probably be expanded in unhappy ways. Politicians will attach ever-more-onerous conditions to NSF funds, in order to make sure that research they like gets money, while research that they dislike does not. Politicians should not micromanage the grant-making process. They are likely to not only misunderstand the science but use their influence to mischaracterize good research in attempts to score political points.

In the worst-case scenario, Coburn’s amendment could also set a dangerous precedent for academic research in general. Introducing political micromanagement into a system that should be governed by scientific criteria would essentially politicize science. The NSF finances important research in politically controversial areas such as climate science, biology, and evolutionary science. To date, the NSF has been able to shield grant-making decisions in those areas from broader political acrimony. Politicians who deny global warming and evolution have not wanted to seem overtly anti-science, and have refrained from direct attack.

That delicate balance may be upset, as it becomes more acceptable to interfere with the inner workings of decision making at the NSF. Research on global warming, evolution, and biology may become fair game. The Coburn amendment is a tragedy for both political science and public debate. Its broader legacy may be a tragedy for the basic process of scientific discovery, if it is not swiftly reversed. Tom Coburn may not like political science. It’s important to remember that many of his colleagues don’t like science at all.

What We Need to Know about the NSF Funding Vote
Seth Masket | Mischiefs of Faction Blog
March 26, 2013
This blog entry is mostly a call to action among political scientists. He starts out by commenting on some of the technical details of the legislation from his history as a Congressional staffer.

That Time Where Tom Coburn Didn’t Believe in Micro-Managing Scientific Research
John Sides | The Monkey Cage Blog
March 27, 2013
In this post, Sides finds a time when Tom Coburn argues against micromanaging scientific research:

Coburn told Nature Medicine that he will continue to oppose any disease-specific legislation because he doesn’t think Congress should micromanage the leaders of the NIH. “If you’re going to do a disease-specific bill, you ought to tell them what mass spectrometer to buy,” he quips.

Tom Coburn Flip-Flops on NSF Funding of Political Science Research
John Sides | The Monkey Cage Blog
December 20, 2011
This piece gives some nice examples of Coburn deriding political science research and then using some NSF-funded political science research to support a point he was making about the decline in Congressional oversight.

The world’s first video science journal

Researchers in the Lab, Ready for Their Close-Up from The Chronicle of Higher Education
“Unlike traditional journals, which compress the “how to” descriptions into three or four brief paragraphs of text, JoVE, as its readers call it, sends professional videographers into labs to record how scientists do experiments—measuring how water flows around jellyfish, for instance, or implanting electrodes in insect legs to monitor nerve control of walking—and publishes these minidocumentaries online, along with scientific descriptions, diagrams, and citations.

In a world where failure to replicate afflicts more than half of all life-science experiments published in academic journals, according to a 2011 report published in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, many scientists view the video journal as a recipe for success.”

Women as Academic Authors 1665-2010

Women as Academic Authors, 1665-2010
Special report from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Women’s presence in higher education has increased, but as authors of scholarly papers—keys to career success—their publishing patterns differ from those of men. Explore nearly 1,800 fields and subfields, across four centuries, to see which areas have the most female authors and which have the fewest, in this exclusive Chronicle report. See how overall percentages differ from the important first-author position and—in two major bioscience fields—from the prestigious last-author position.

For your bedside table: Demographic-themed novels

These novels are at the suggestion of @Demografia_CSIC. Please pass on additional suggestions to me ( and I’ll add them.

Cipolla, Carlo. 1981. Faith, Reason, and the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Tuscany [Reviews]

Saramago, Jose. 2009. Death with Interruptions [Reviews]

Shaw, George Bernard. 1921. Back to Methuselah – A Metabiological Penateuch [Synopsis]

Kertzer, David. 2008. Amalia’s Tale. [Reviews]

Harrison, Harry. 1966. Make Room! Make Room! [Reviews]

Pohl, Frederick and C.M. Kornbluth. 1952. The Space Merchants [Reviews]

Wells, H.G. 1895. The Time Machine [Synopsis]

Elsevier Boycott, Open Access, University Responses, etc.

Earlier this year, Congress tried to pass legislation that would have ended the NIH Pub Med Central repository [link]. This legislation failed, but Elsevier was a big backer of it. There is an active boycott – mostly among mathematicians – of Elsevier journals (publishing, reviewing, etc.). In addition, both Harvard and MIT professors have written letters in protest of some of Elsevier’s policies:

Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing: Major Periodical Subscriptions Cannot be Sustained
Faculty Advisory Council | Harvard University
April 17, 2012

New Open Access Working Group Formed: Formulating Response to Elsevier’s Policy Change
Richard Holton | MIT Facultly Newsletter
March/April 2012

And, a blast from the past. This has been simmering for some time:

Libraries take a stand
Harvard University Gazette
February 5, 2004

Congress Considers Blocking Government’s Open Access Policy

The following is a compilation of articles discussing legislation in The House [H.R. 3699], which would block rules such as NIH Publication Reporting rules/requirements.

The bill seeks to prohibit federal agencies from conditioning their grants to require that articles reporting on publicly funded research be made accessible to the public online.

New Bill Would Put Taxpayer-Funded Science Behind Pay Walls
Lena Groeger | ProPublica
January 12, 2012

The Research Works Act Aims to Kill Open-Access Journals
David Banks |
January 11, 2012

Research Bought, Then Paid For
Michael b. Eisen | New York Times
January 10, 2012

Here we go again: Congress considers blocking government’s open access policy
John Timmer |
January 9, 2012

Around the Web: Some posts on the Research Works Act (Now chronological!!)
John Dupuis |
January 9, 2012

IP Contributions to Scientific Papers by Publishers: An open letter to Rep Maloney and Issa
Cameron Neylon | Science in the Open [online home of Cameron Neylon]
January 8, 2012

Science-Journal Publishers Take Fight Against Open-Access Policies to Congress
Chronicle of Higher Education

January 5, 2012

Katrina’s Impact On The Population Of New Orleans

NPR’s Robert Siegel talks to Mark VanLandingham, a professor of public health at Tulane University, about the changes in the makeup of the population of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck the city five years ago. Some ethnic groups have rebounded better than others. The Vietnamese population of East New Orleans has robustly returned to their old neighborhood, and the Hispanic population of the city has grown.

Broadcast August 23, 2010

Listen to the story or read the transcript

Wikipedia for academics? Peer review on the web

The following are articles that cover some experiments in web-based/transparent reviews of scholarly articles.

Academia tests crowd-sourcing: Journals are slowly moving toward open-online-peer reviews for scholarly work
Faith Merino | VatorNews
August 24, 2010

Time for Peer Review to Meet the Web?
Heather Horn | The Atlantic Wire
August 24, 2010

Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review
August 23, 2010
The Internet is calling into question one of academia’s sacred rites: the peer- reviewed journal article.

The Stat Police

A story from NPR’s On the Media:

Politicians and journalists frequently cite statistics that are misleading, derived from dubious studies, or simply plucked out of thin air. So the U.K. has done something novel: they’ve created a new government agency to ensure that those all-important stats aren’t fudged for political purposes. Chairman of the U.K. Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar, explains what they do.

Listen here:

Transcript available here Monday (6/22/09) afternoon.

Political Manipulation of the Census has been Rejected throughout the course of American history

Report: Political Manipulation of the Census has been Rejected throughout the course of American history
Source: U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (GOP)

A report released by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Republican staff examining the Constitutional foundation and history of the U.S. Census concludes that while the latest attempt by the White House to politicize the Census, though not entirely unprecedented, is unlikely to succeed.

“When it comes to the Census, history demonstrates that political gamesmanship has always been the losing proposition,” the report concludes. “Dating from before the founding of the United States through the present, there have been Census debates over everything from Constitutional issues and types of ‘estimation’ to reapportionment. In each and every debate, however, the politics of interference in and manipulation of the Census lose out to independence.”

The report’s release comes in advance of the scheduled Friday confirmation hearing of Census Director nominee Robert Groves who must explain how his leadership will result in an apolitical count that fully meets all Constitutional requirements. Questions about Groves’ ability to lead the Census Bureau have recently been raised by his decision to single out Congressional Republicans – while excluding Congressional Democrats – for criticism in a May 7, 2009 Associated Press story.

Full report (PDF)