For much of the past year Representatives Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) have led a call for tighter control of National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. Cantor and Smith have singled out NSF social science funding, bemoaning why the taxpayers should want to support programs such as archaeology. Their apparently reasonable claim for fiscal sobriety conceals their skepticism about the value of social science, and it underscores an anti-scholarly agenda that aspires to erode the nation's longstanding commitment to science.
Cantor and Smith's strongest rhetoric is reflected in their September suggestion that "Congress is right to ask why NSF chooses to fund research on Mayan architecture over projects that could help our wounded warriors or save lives." The Representatives certainly realize that no NSF reviewers weighed the choice between archaeology and neurological research on wounded soldiers. That suggestion is a contrived appeal to our national commitment to soldiers, staking a deceptive emotional claim on our sense of justice and fiscal sanity.
Why National Science Foundation Funding -- and Archaeology -- Matters