Staff Editorial: The softer side of science

At many colleges, Saturday nights are reserved for beer pong and bar hopping. On Saturday, it was clear from Twitter and Facebook feeds that many GW students had traded in the ping pong balls for C-SPAN and health care reform. Politics, and by association, political science, often drives this University.

While health care will continue to be debated in the Senate, there is at least one piece of legislation GW can celebrate the death of. Last month, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., proposed an amendment that would effectively cut funding for political science from the National Science Foundation. This would have been especially detrimental to GW’s political science department, which has received more than $1 million in the past decade from the NSF.

At the heart of Coburn’s argument is the claim that political science research is less valid than research in other disciplines. Through the strength of GW’s political science department, it has been demonstrated that these arguments do not hold water. Much of GW’s appeal is built on the political activities students take part in, research included. It is good that this amendment was killed in legislation so that GW can continue to develop its reputation in the political science field.

There is debate within the political science realm about whether the field is a “science” in the true sense of the word. The dispute highlights an important distinction between “hard” and “soft” sciences. Traditionally, hard science research – work on cancer, for example – has gotten significantly more funding than research in social science fields. The disparity is not necessarily a bad one; a major benefit of social science research is its lower cost. But to completely cut funding for a soft science, like most political science research, would be a mistake. While political science may never produce a miracle cure for a prominent disease, it is an essential discipline that continues to expand the frontier of human knowledge.

It is necessary to GW’s identity that we are a pioneer in this regard. Politics is ingrained in the GW experience. From elections of national importance to local and gubernatorial races, politics is the lifeblood of much of our school. Money spent on political science research is not wasted here. With up to $250,000 in potential grants pending, it will be exciting to see the work the political science department will be doing in years to come.

Considering GW’s reputation for political study, there is little more to say than ‘Keep up the good work.’ Political science research is part of the work GW needs to continue, and seeing the defeat of this legislation is a definite positive. Just another bit of politics worth tweeting about.

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