February 2, 2014

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Building the Social Sciences

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To the Editor:

I appreciate your concern about Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-O.K.) recently repealed amendment, which had restricted funding for select research in political science. When politicians decide which scientific research to fund, it is indeed political science. Two years ago, I was a Congressional Fellow in a Senate subcommittee of which Coburn was the ranking member. Coburn, who practiced obstetrics and insists on being called “doctor” in the Senate, should recall from his medical training that science is not an ideology, but a body of knowledge and method. His amendment set a dangerous precedent for lawmakers to presuppose the scientific merit of federally funded research –– assessments that are best left to experts in their respective fields.

That year, I was the first sociologist to join a cohort of fellows from the American Association for the Advancement of Science sent to Washington to help science inform policy. None of my scientific colleagues working for lawmakers of either party, including Cornellians with STEM backgrounds, ever suggested that social science was somehow subordinate or inferior to hard science. Social scientists work within and across disciplines to try to understand the most pressing problems this country faces.

Promoting a collaborative environment between the sciences at Cornell would set a dignified example for Congress. Therefore, I welcome your suggestion that the University commit to physical space and resources that would help put the social sciences on a materially equal footing with their natural science peers. May I selfishly recommend starting with a refurbishment of Uris Hall?

Prof. Dennis Bogusz, sociology

Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Inequality