Robert Putnam on Why We Need Political Science Research

When I discussed Bowling Alone the other day, I didn’t realize that political scientist Robert Putnam had recently received a National Humanities Medal at the White House. Putnam also has a recent op-ed in Politico (via the Monkey Cage) discussing Sen. Tom Coburn’s recent amendment limiting NSF funding for political science research.  Putnam writes of ...

When I discussed Bowling Alone the other day, I didn't realize that political scientist Robert Putnam had recently received a National Humanities Medal at the White House. Putnam also has a recent op-ed in Politico (via the Monkey Cage) discussing Sen. Tom Coburn's recent amendment limiting NSF funding for political science research. 

Putnam writes of his highly influential work on social capital that "if the recent amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that restricts NSF funding for political science had been in effect when I began this research, it never would have gotten off the ground since the foundational grant that made this project possible came from the NSF Political Science Program."

He notes that at the time he began, it would have been difficult to justify his research as being in any way beneficial to the national interest. 

When I discussed Bowling Alone the other day, I didn’t realize that political scientist Robert Putnam had recently received a National Humanities Medal at the White House. Putnam also has a recent op-ed in Politico (via the Monkey Cage) discussing Sen. Tom Coburn’s recent amendment limiting NSF funding for political science research. 

Putnam writes of his highly influential work on social capital that "if the recent amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that restricts NSF funding for political science had been in effect when I began this research, it never would have gotten off the ground since the foundational grant that made this project possible came from the NSF Political Science Program."

He notes that at the time he began, it would have been difficult to justify his research as being in any way beneficial to the national interest. 

Forty years ago, it was impossible to foresee the far-reaching results of the research — certainly I didn’t! It was not at all clear that the research would have any practical implications for American citizens and policymakers — the nominal topic, after all, was local government in Italy. But my disciplinary peers carefully scrutinized the theoretical framework and the scientific methodology of the proposed work, just as they did with scores of other proposals that year.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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