Social science: to fund or not to fund?

Social science: to fund or not to fund?
Researchers working to combat Alzheimer's disease at the VA medical center in North Hills. The National Science Foundation funds projects like the veil-fashion industry in Turkey and Viking textiles in Iceland, some would say to the detriment of scientific efforts. (Bob Carey)

To the editor: Henry Miller's op-ed on National Science Foundation social science funding ("Stop paying for stupid science," Opinion, June 29)  misrepresents today's scientific inquiry and proposes a penny-wise, pound-foolish fix.

He suggests frivolous social science projects crowd out research in physical and biological sciences and engineering.


Actually, this year the foundation received about $7 billion, of which about $270 million was allocated to social sciences.

Miller believes Congress must save the foundation from itself. We disagree. America's scientific progress relies on broad-ranging research unfettered by politics.

Hopefully the Senate will support a bipartisan bill that leaves research decisions to researchers. This, not paring a few percent from the foundation's budget, is in the national interest.

Diane Gifford-Gonzalez, Santa Cruz

The writer is president of the Society for American Archaeology.


To the editor: Regarding Miller's opinion piece, he appears eager to appoint himself arbiter of what National Science Foundation research is stupid.

The trouble with this critique is that Miller tells us nothing about the projects he dismisses except his mocking two- or three-word descriptions.

Out with peer review, the marketplace of ideas, the humanities and the social sciences. What constitutes quality research, good science or value to human society?

Just call Miller; he'll tell us.

This all seems both foolish and unscientific.

Michael Provence, San Diego

The writer is an associate professor of history at UC San Diego.



To the editor: Climate change is the crisis of our age, and the National Science Foundation is trying to get the word out. That doesn't strike me as a waste of money.

The scientific debate on global warming was settled decades ago, but the public has been slow to catch on and some in Congress are still in deep, determined denial.

The foundation is the leanest of agencies, promoting transformative science on a very tight budget.

Before you can get funding, a detailed proposal is vetted and discussed by a panel of scientists, who spend days and weeks poring over the details and ranking their quality.

They bend over backward to pick transformative projects in the fairest way imaginable.

Handing over prioritization to Congress can't possibly make the system work better. The nation's regard for Congress has never been worse. Why would we ever trust them over scientists?

David Carter, Redlands