Senator Tom Coburn Launches War on Poli-Sci

Because ... well, because he's not entirely stable.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is known for picking some odd fights, but his new dispute hits a little close to home: he wants to cut off all federal funding for political science research.

The National Science Foundation subsidizes some research into political science, and Coburn introduced a measure yesterday to eliminate the funding altogether. Proving that the right-wing senator has no real understanding of what political science is, Coburn said in a statement, "Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless number of political commentators on the Internet."

In particular, Coburn criticized NSF grants for poli sci because Paul Krugman once got one. And the Nobel laureate is bad. Or something.

Krugman responded to this earlier today.

Um, I'm not a political scientist. Also, I can't quite remember when I last received NSF support, but it has to be at least 20 years ago -- and it was, of course, for work on international trade, work that, you know, won me a Clark Medal and that other prize. So the standard seems to be that if anyone ever supported by the NSF expresses liberal political opinions decades later, that discredits the program.

But much worse is the way Coburn singles out support for the American National Election Studies as a boondoggle. As I said, I'm not a political scientist -- but I've done enough data-surveying to know that the ANES is a treasure trove of information that can't be found anywhere else -- certainly not, as Coburn suggests, on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. Of course, it's obvious from what Coburn says that neither he nor anyone on his staff even bothered to look at what the ANES does.

Now, Coburn is not, you might say, the most rational member of the Senate. Still, this is worrying: social science research is important, and doesn't need to face these kinds of know-nothing attacks.

The American Political Science Association isn't exactly a lobbying powerhouse, but it's trying to rally some opposition to the Coburn effort. Crooked Timber, Andrew Gelman, and Dan Drezner have more.

Coburn's amendment may come up for a vote today. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."
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