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McClintock votes to end political science grants

Local graduates say eliminating funding threatens academic thought
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Granite Bay native Gina Bateson spent her fourth year of graduate school in Guatemala, researching how the nation's Civil War from 1960 to 1996 affects public security today.

She examined violent crime, drug trafficking and how local militias formed during the war have been reactivated to control crime - and the downsides of that approach. She's also uncovered ongoing human rights abuses.

Bateson, 29, frequently visits Guatemala, and conducts research with the help of a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, a U.S. government agency that supports research and education projects in non-medical fields of science and engineering. This includes math, computer science, economics and social sciences.

But funding for political science projects may soon go away.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment May 9 to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to prohibit the foundation from funding political science research. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-4th District, voted in favor of abolishing this funding.

In an email to the Press Tribune, McClintock said those grants are a "poster child for waste in government."

"Seventy-five percent of the funds go to universities with over $1 billion endowments and are used to pay for some truly outrageous studies like, 'Why politicians make vague statements,'" McClintock wrote. "Our taxpayers are exhausted, our treasury is empty, our country is on the verge of bankruptcy and we're supposed to shovel money out the door for dubious spending like this?"

Doesn't reduce spending

The 218-208 vote fell along party lines, with the majority of Republicans voting in favor and most Democrats voting against the amendment. Bateson says she can't figure out why political science is being targeted.

"There seems to be animus to political science underlying (the amendment)," she said.

In the House debate, author Rep. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, who holds a degree in political science, said his amendment is "simply orienting toward ensuring ... that the NSF does not waste taxpayer dollars on a meritless program."

This amendment does not reduce overall funding to the National Science Foundation, which was appropriated $7 billion from the federal budget in 2012.

"So it wouldn't even save the government money," Bateson said. "If it was about saving money, I wouldn't support cuts but I could at least understand."

Bateson graduated from Granite Bay High School in 2000 - she was class valedictorian - and attended Stanford University. She spent two years as a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. Department of State, before starting Yale University.

This fall, she begins her seventh and final year, and will apply for professor positions. Her dissertation is on the role of law and public security after civil wars.

During her second year, she was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This grant included a taxable $30,000 stipend, tuition and a one-time award of $1,000 for international research expenses. Having financial support meant she didn't have to teach, unlike most graduate students.

"If I was teaching, it would have been impossible for me to do my research," Bateson said. "For me, (the grant) has been crucial to everything I've been able to do."

Bateson also used the funding for a project that involved analyzing survey data from 70 countries and examining the political consequences of crime and how personal experience with crime affects political behaviors.

The article on her findings will be published in the prestigious scholarly journal, "American Political Science Review."

Why political science?

Del Oro High School class of 2000 graduate and current Yale graduate student Cameron Ballard-Rosa is writing his Ph.D. dissertation on the role of politics in sovereign nations' debt defaults. The Loomis native isn't a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant, but says he's concerned that politicians are affectively clamping down on academic thought by imposing funding limitations.

"They're restricting what kind of research can be done, and that's scary to me," he said.

He has two theories as to why politicians would single out political science, the first supported by Flake in his argument for his amendment - that the funded projects are "meritless."

"The benign theory is that someone saw some silly piece of research and thought that was a waste of money ... if that is the criteria we use, well then, we should stop funding Congress," Ballard-Rosa said.

There will always be some "zany" projects that waste money, he said, adding that to form an opinion about an entire academic discipline based on a few bad seeds is ill-informed.

"The second theory is: What is it about political science in particular that politicians wouldn't like?" Ballard-Rosa said. "We look at corruption, campaign donations ... and what comes out (about politicians) is a picture that's not always very pretty."

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT