Eric Cantor wants to shift federal funding from social sciences to medical research. Hey, medical research is important! But as (political scientist) John Sides points out, social science is also important — even for questions of health care:
Good thing that disease, mortality, etc. bear no relationship to political institutions. Good thing that there is no politics in whether and how drugs and medical treatments are developed.
To be less sarcastic and more constructive, here is Evan Lieberman’s book on how ethnic politics shaped national responses to AIDS. Here is Dan Carpenter’s work on the Food and Drug Administration. That’s just off the top of my head.
The broader point is that Cantor’s goal, curing disease and saving lives, can be better accomplished by including social and political science alongside the “hard” sciences and medicine.
I know little or nothing about the research in these areas, but it’s very easy to think of plenty of questions which sociology, economics and, yes, political science, along with other such disciplines, might be able solve (or for all I know have already solved). Here’s one I know of: When it comes to vaccinations, do you think it might be useful to know how false information spreads, and the best ways to combat it? Indeed, political scientists and media scholars are now at work on specific questions about false beliefs about vaccines and broader questions about why some people get vaccinated and some don’t. Again: think that knowledge might help fight disease?
I suppose an optimist would look at this and say that at least Cantor is now acknowledging that some government-funded research is valuable, instead of just finding funny-sounding grants and ridiculing them. So we’re halfway there; now Republicans just have to learn that all sorts of research actually benefit the country, and a great nation should be able to invest in broad-based research in all sorts of sciences (and, for that matter, the humanities as well).
Or, as economist Justin Wolfers tweeted:
“If Cantor doesn’t believe that designing better social institutions will improve and save lives, why is he in politics rather than medicine?”