Is Political Science Alive and Well and Living at NSF: Reflections of a Program Director at Midstream

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  • Is Political Science Alive and Well and Living at NSF: Reflections of a Program Director atMidstreamAuthor(s): David Calhoun LeegeSource: PS, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Winter, 1976), pp. 8-17Published by: American Political Science AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 07:14

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  • Is Political Science Alive and Well and Living at NSF: Reflections of a Program Director at Midstream

    The Political Science Program of the National Science Foundation is the primary source of support for basic research conducted by univer- sity-based political scientists. While the scien- tific progress of the discipline depends on what happens in the minds, the fields, the laborator- ies, the libraries, and the typewriters of scholars across the country, there is little question that the size of the Program budget and its usage affects the type and quality of research done by political scientists. This article offers a public accounting to an interested clientele. In no way is it an officially sanctioned statement from NSF. It is a set of personal reflections with some analysis, parts of which my superiors at the Foundation find objectionable. Some of the arguments will not please important sectors of the discipline's intellectual and political leadership as well. I offer it in hopes of stimulating reaction and change. It is limited to basic research support, primarily through the Political Science Pro- gram, and does not extend to support for applied research funded typically through RANN-NSF. Finally, the Foundation is effect- ing a major reorganization which may have far-reaching consequences for the Division of Social Science of which the Program is a part; thus what is said here is subject to change over the next few years.

    * * *

    While the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 did not explicitly state that funds must be directed to basic research in social sciences, the Foundation indirectly supported such research through its Division of Biological and Medical Sciences through 1957 and began laying the groundwork for an appropriate division. The Division of Social Sciences received official organizational status in 1960. In the early 1960's, many political scientists expressed con- cern over signals emanating from the Founda- tion that the Division of Social Sciences did not intend to support basic research in political science.1 Numerous exchanges followed, with the APSA executive office taking a lead role in the effort to clarify the status of the discipline. As is common in dealings with administrative agencies, friendly congressmen were enlisted in the effort. By late 1964 a working draft of the distinction between basic research in political science and research which served more im- mediate political purposes was developed by the Foundation and leading political scientists. Commencing with fiscal year 1966 (July 1, 1965), the Foundation established a Political

    David Calhoun Leege National Science Foundation

    Science Program and in the following year constituted its first review panel. During the period from FY 66 to FY 70, the director of the Division of Social Sciences, Dr. Howard Hines, an economist, also served as acting director of the Political Science Program. He was assisted by the customary five-member panels, which included many scholars who were then or later became prominent leaders of the Association. It was a period of steady budget- ary growth, from a base of $.34 million until a budget of $1.3 million was reached. During this same period the Division's budget moved from $12.59 million to $15.99 million.

    Beginning with FY 71, the Program has been directed by a succession of four political scientists, Drs. William Lucas, Allen Shinn, G. R. Boynton, and David Leege. The latter two have or are serving the customary two-year terms for rotational appointees. The former two moved from basic research to applied research directorates within the Foundation. Growth in budgetary support slowed consider- ably during this period and even moved back from a high point in FY 73 of $1.63 million to the FY 75 level of $1.55 million. During this time, the Division's budget increased from $18 million to $25.71 million and three additional programs-Social Indicators, Law and Social Sciences, and Science Policy-were established.

    The disappointing budgetary trend of the Pro- gram over the past five years is a cause of great concern to political scientists-particularly as other research support sources dry up in the post-Mansfield amendment days and as a larger component of the discipline is capable of conducting high quality scientific research. Since, as can be seen in Table 1, the Program's budgetary history is very different from that of some discipline-related programs, it is worth examining performance on criteria customarily utilized in pegging budgetary targets.

    At NSF, a program's budget is considered to be a response to the following: (1) the number of people in a discipline who do

    scientific research

    (2) the need for funds as indicated by: (a) the role NSF plays relative to other

    sources of support for basic research in the program area, and

    (b) "proposal pressure," i.e., the volume and dollar demand for a program's resources

    8 PS Winter 1976

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  • TABLE 1

    Program Budgets Social Science Division

    National Science Foundation (in millions of dollars by fiscal year)

    Fiscal Year

    Program 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975

    Anthropology 3.98 3.66 3.61 3.62 3.57 3.56 3.85 4.16 4.01 4.00 Economics 2.35 3.21 3.69 4.44 4.54 4.88 5.31 5.56 5.95 7.26 Geography .22 .41 .60 .19 .51 .65 1.00 .79 .59 .49 Sociology 3.66 4.06 4.04 3.56 3.54 4.15 237 2.40 2.42 2.78 Social Psychology 2.14 2.45 2.23 2.20 Political Science .34 .80 .79 1.31 1.20 1.39 1.50 1.63 1.55 1.55 History and Philosophy

    of Science 1.02 .81 .83 .83 .87 .79 .87 .89 .94 .93 Special Projects

    (including Linguistics) 1.03 1.96 1.86 1.97 1.76 2.58 2.83 3.13 3.76 3.48 Social Indicators 2.05 1.72 1.50 1.67 Law .90 1.09 1.05 .91 Science Policy .75 .39 .40 .49

    TOTALS 12.59 14.91 15.41 15.92 15.99 18.00 23.58 24.24 24.37 25.71

    (3) how well a discipline or related substantive fields are developing, as indicated by (a) what is being learned, the state of new

    theoretical breakthroughs, and

    (b) the scientific quality of proposals Only on the second criterion are reasonably hard data available. For purposes of comparative illustration I have taken three programs with very different bud- getary histories-Anthropology, Economics, and Political Science. Anthropology is a rela- tively small discipline which, according to National Academy of Sciences-based estimates of scientific manpower, has approximately 2400 active Ph.D.s.3 Economics has approxi- mately 10,800 active Ph.D.s and Political Sci- ence has about 7500. These figures, interesting- ly enough, coincide with estimates by the relevant professional associations as to the number of their members who hold doctorates in that field. Clearly, not all people holding doctorates in a social science are qualified to do scientific research. Graduate training, current employment, research opportunities, and other factors affect whether possessors of doctorates once had such capabilities and continue to develop them. Generally we would concede that a higher proportion of doctorate-holding economists than anthropologists and anthropol- ogists than political scientists once did and continue to do basic scientific research. Even granting that, it would be difficult to account for the level and pattern of budgetary support available in the three programs (see Figure 1) by the number of qualified scholars. The disjuncture from expectations is most pro- nounced between Political Science and Anthro- pology, considerably less so between Political Science and Economics.

    Even between the latter two disciplines the pattern from FY 71 on runs contrary to the numbers argument. In the period since 1970, approximately 4400 new Ph.D.-holders in econ- omics have entered the marketplace while about 4200 new doctorates in political science (exclusive of area studies) have been awarded. At many graduate schools, training programs in the two disciplines are becoming increasingly similar and one should expect the competence gap to narrow. If it is narrowing, however, it is running quite contrary to the comparative funding gap. If the "number of qualified investigators" criterion is to be applied by the Foundation, one should expect a rather sharp change in the FY 71-75 funding patterns for the programs over the next half decade.

    The important point to remember, however, is that this is only the first of three criteria. The second is the need for funds. Here again, one must work with soft data for one portion of the assessment. One cannot calculate precisely NSF's funding role for each discipline relative to that of federal mission agencies and other foundations. The Foundation has maintained that the disproportionately high level of sup- port for anthropology is a function of inade- quate funds for basic research from other sources. Estimates prepared by the Foundation of federal funding for the social sciences in recent years are interesting to compare. Basic research support for anthropology has been in the range of $8.0-11.5 million per annum; for economics, $25.6-33.5 million; and for political science $2.6-4.2 million.4 If one limits the federal support figures only to basic research performed at universities, according to Founda- tion estimates, in FY 74 the Anthropology Program supplied $3.9 of $4.0 million (98%), the Economics Program supplied $6.1 of $16.3


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  • Is Political Science Alive and Well and Living at NSF

    FIGURE 1

    Pattern of Budgetary Support, Three Programs in Division of Social Sciences

    Social Sciences



    Political Science _--

    I I I I I I

    66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75


    million (37%), and the Political Science Pro- gram supplied $1.5 of $1.9 million (79%). If the estimates are anything more than artifacts of incomplete information and misclassifica- tion, the need argument fails to account for most of the differences in the patterns. According to the second indicator, "proposal pressure," hard data are available, with only modest slippage as a result of the time it takes to process a proposal, once received, through to an NSF action. Table 2 lists success rates in each program, first in terms of response to the volume of requests and secondly in terms of response to the dollar demand. Success rates in all three programs have been dropping through the years, although there are some FY excep- tions peculiar to each program. Such a decline is to be expected as Congress places budgetary constraints on the Division of Social Sciences; other data not presented here indicate that the social sciences and engineering consistently have the lowest success rates in the Foundation, sometimes 25 percentage points below the success rates of divisions in the physical sci- ences. To return to the three-program comparison, the success rate in Political Science is usually far below that of Economics and Anthropology. The most precipitous decline in the Program's ability to respond to proposal pressure has come in the period from FY 71 on; the gap between Economics and Political Science dur- ing this period is often as wide as the gap between the physical sciences and the social sciences. Interesting also is the comparison between Anthropology and Political Science during the same period; despite relatively static budgets in both programs in some of the years, Anthropology has been able to respond to proposal pressure far better than has Political Science. Thus, either the proposal pressure consideration is inconsistently applied or other factors account for differences in budgetary patterns.

    TABLE 2

    Selected Comparisons of Success Rates ("Proposal Pressure")

    Anthropology Economics Political Science

    Fiscal No. Awards $ Awarded No. Awards $ Awarded No. Awards $ Awarded Year No. Proposals $ Requested No. Proposals $ Requested No. Proposals $ Requested

    66 52% 41% 52% 27% 36% 17% 67 57 37 61 34 62 42 68 47 30 47 33 40 13 69 60 50 64 37 46 45 70 49 31 42 27 42 18 71 40 27 35 23 24 14 72 40 22 50 21 30 18 73 36 30 39 21 30 21 74 41 28 43 27 27 18 75 43 23 54 29 35 20

    10 PS Winter 1976

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  • The factor most frequently mentioned by Foundation planning and budget officials is the third one-how well the discipline is developing. To their minds, political scientists have spent excessive resources on large-scale data collec- tion and tool development and insufficient effort on the development of useful models or on cumulating knowledge. While it may be true that political scientists do not have a parsimoni- ous number of consensually-shared theories of some generality as do economists and social psychologists, nevertheless recent program di- rectors have devoted extensive effort to pro- gram evaluation and documentation of the discipline's progress. These reports are now being used internally to assess whether scien- tific progress in various sectors of the discipline is sufficient to merit infusion of additional funds. Such assessments are by their nature judgmental and depend in part on the breadth of understanding possessed by planning officials who have come...


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