It is not unusual for conservative politicians in the United States to question the value of social-science research. Studies of anything from global social networks to the history of conservation in South America have proved irresistible to Republicans keen to argue that funding would reap greater rewards elsewhere. But this year, researchers in the field received a sharp shock when those criticisms morphed into tangible restrictions.
“What’s different this time is they succeeded,” says Howard Silver, executive director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations. In March, Congress placed new limits on political-science research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). And with powerful Republicans pushing to enact legislation that would restrict the NSF further, forcing it to support only research that serves the ‘national interest’, newly emboldened social scientists are gearing up for a fight.