Daniel W. Drezner

Why I don’t need to take Charles Lane seriously any more

Earlier in the week the Washington Post’s Chuck Lane wrote an op-ed arguing in favor of Jeff Flake’s amendment to cut National Science Foundation funding for political science.  In fact, Lane raised the ante, arguing that NSF should stop funding all of the social sciences, full stop.  Now, I can respect someone who tries to ...

Earlier in the week the Washington Post’s Chuck Lane wrote an op-ed arguing in favor of Jeff Flake’s amendment to cut National Science Foundation funding for political science.  In fact, Lane raised the ante, arguing that NSF should stop funding all of the social sciences, full stop. 

Now, I can respect someone who tries to make the argument that the opportunity costs of funding the social sciences are big enough that this is where a budget cut should take place.  It’s harder, however, to respect someone who: 

1)  Doesn’t comprehend the differences between the natural sciences and social sciences;

2)  Is unaware that the social sciences are — increasingly — running experiments as well;

3)  Believes that because individual social scientists have normative preferences, the whole enterprise cannnot be objective (or, in other words, doesn’t undersand the scientific enterprise at all);

4)  Fails to comprehend the economics of public goods;

5)  Hasn’t really thought through what would happen if all social science was privately funded.

Now, all columnists can have a bad day, so that’s fine.  What I find intriguing, however, is that Lane’s response to criticism from political scientists to his essay can be summarized in one tweet:  "shorter my critics re poli sci funding:  we want our money."  This is cute, but overlooks the fact that a lot of Lane’s poli sci critics — myself included — haven’t received a dime in  NSF funding. 

More disconcertingly, it’s intellectually lazy.  Sources of funding do matter in public discourse, but they do not vitiate the logic contained in the arguments linked to above.  This is simply Lane’s cheap and easy excuse for not engaging the substance of his critics’ arguments. 

The hard-working folks here at the blog believe strongly in reciprocity, so Lane has done us a small favor — we no longer need to read Chuck Lane’s arguments all that carefully, or take him all that seriously, ever again. 

Thanks, Chuck!!   

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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