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Coburn 1, political scientists 0

When we talk about Republicans having an anti-science agenda, we're not just talking about biology, climate science, human sexuality, cosmology, physics, chemistry, and the environment. As GOP policymakers reminded yesterday, they're against political science, too.

A measure limiting National Science Foundation funding for political science research projects passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, quietly dealing a blow to the government agency.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) submitted a series of amendments to the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, the Senate bill to keep the government running past March 27. One of those amendments would prohibit the NSF from funding political science research unless a project is certified as "promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States."

Coburn has been on this kick for several years, but he's never had this level of success until now.

It's never been altogether clear why the far-right senator has this hang up over political science -- we're talking about $13 million in grants, which is less than a rounding error when it comes to federal spending -- but it's even less clear why Coburn's colleagues went along with this nonsense. It's not like the move even saves money, per se, since this is more about restricting the kind of research that's eligible, not cutting the grants themselves.

"Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years," the American Political Science Association said in a statement. "The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure."

I suspect most folks won't give this a lot of thought, but this new NSF provision puts at risk, among other things, the American National Election Study, which is the nation's longest-running report on American public opinion and voting behavior.

But for Coburn and his colleagues, apparently that doesn't matter. Research on voting, elections, democracy, and political institutions is now inexplicably unworthy on federal grants, regardless of its value.

Disclosure: For what it's worth, my degrees are in political science, so I'm exactly a neutral observer when it comes to the value of poli-sci research.