The Stupid Party, cont’d

Eric Cantor wants to defund social science. Can you say “Stupid Party”?

The U.S. currently spends about $27 billion a year on biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health, and something less than a quarter of that amount ($6 billion per year) on all other scientific research through the National Science Foundation. Of that smaller amount, less than 5% ($247 million) goes to “social, behavioral, and economic sciences.”

Yes, biomedical studies are expensive. And yes, everyone wants a cure fox X, by tomorrow morning if possible. But the imbalance is bad for the scientific enterprise, and probably not optimal even from the narrow perspective of improving health care, let alone health outcomes.

But don’t worry: Eric Cantor has a solution to the problem: eliminate all federal social funding for social science. Because of course the less we know about how social systems work, the more likely we are to believe Republican b.s.

I suppose it’s no surprise that the Stupid Party is also the Party of Ignorance. The fact that research and higher education are two major industries in which the U.S. remains the undoubted world leader doesn’t matter to them as long as the people who work in that sector (1) insist on finding and communicating inconvenient truth and (2) vote Democratic. But couldn’t Cantor at least change his name to Kent? His current behavior constitutes an embarrassment to the rest of the Jews.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

72 thoughts on “The Stupid Party, cont’d”

  1. Great post! Cantor really peeved you! Another post explicating more of the second paragraph would be cool…

    Frank

    1. This is really way outside my field, but I can take a stab at it.

      In short, the problem is that the real world is not just a controlled clinical trial writ large. When you want to understand the efficacy of healthcare, you have to look at things like the actual implementation of preventive measures and the actual delivery of treatment under real-world constraints, such as availability of providers. Some things are also difficult to observe under laboratory conditions; systematic collection of data can tell us things that a collection of anecdotes doesn’t. See, e.g., Kevin Drum’s recent articles about the connection between lead, crime, etc. (everybody knows that lead is highly toxic; that doesn’t mean you can predict its effects on a national scale).

      For another example, consider antibiotics. We understand fairly well what their effect on the human body and bacteria is, and that’s what medicine as a science tells us.

      However, there’s also the problem of misuse of antibiotics. People who take antibiotics without needing any or patients who stop taking antibiotics when they start feeling well (but before treatment is complete) contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Minimizing or quantifying that effect is ultimately a social science problem.

      You can think of healthcare in this context essentially as a nationwide (if not planetwide) operations research problem. Medicine gives you the basic rules, but you still have a huge number of real-world constraints to deal with. Heck, some of our biggest healthcare challenges are all but defined by those constraints: think organ donation.

      Just as, even though the laws of physics that govern electricity are fundamentally very simple, managing a national grid can be as much art as science.

      1. see my post below
        the problem is, the orignial post has a big error – it doesn’t give other numbers to tell us what 27+6 billion means
        For instance, if the author had said, and we spend 22 billion a year at mcdonalds, then I think most people would conclude that by any rational stanadard, wer are way way way underfunding research…i mean, science is as important as french fries ?

  2. All that science stuff is just lies from the pit of hell. It’s OK if you need to get cured or use it to make money but otherwise it’s just made up by secular pawns of Satan.

  3. I’ve gotten to the point where I find it difficult to be polite to people who rely on some straw man caricature of what social scientists do to argue against social science writ large. Even disciplines that are very different from mine, with which I often disagree, I find myself defending vehemently.

  4. Conservatism is allergic to social science because it disproves so many of their faith-based assumptions. Ironically, the fact that it has been steadily doing so for nearly a century with nary a ripple in right-wing thinking is an intriguing science in itself.

  5. But couldn’t Cantor at least change his name to Kent? His current behavior constitutes an embarrassment to the rest of the Jews.

    Like, oh, just for starters, Sheldon Adelson?

  6. But couldn’t Cantor at least change his name to Kent? His current behavior constitutes an embarrassment to the rest of the Jews.

    You can’t make us take him.

  7. I take it the fundamental point being made here is that, since we have infinite resources, we should never prioritize?

      1. No, it does seem to be the point. After all, unless you’ve got infinite resources, “it would have some value” isn’t really sufficient reason to spend money on something.

        1. Compare the scale of budgets- cutting $247 million on a yearly budget deficit of $845 billion is 0.03% (0.0003) of the difference. We could cut 100 of those programs and save at best 1 day’s interest payments. It doesn’t have to be infinite resources, but if we are in a situation were literally pinching single penny’s is more effective then we should rethink or prioritization.

          Look at it this way- imagine going to the butcher’s station at a supermarket, and telling them not to wrap your roast in butcher’s paper. After all, why should we have to pay the extra for the weight of that heavy paper? And you’d wash it off anyway, plus proper cooking would kill off any surface bacteria. (excluding of course the indirect negative effects- raw meat in contact with all your other purchases, this roast may have been from a slaughterhouse that should have been shut down for health violations, a dripping trail of meat juices throughout the store for other people to come in contact with, …)

          Or deciding to only send post cards instead of letters/greeting cards/birthday cards, to save the extra $0.13. If you had 20 friends to send them to 3 times a year each, that would be a whopping $7.80 a year. Not a meaningless amount, but would be wiped out by eating out at a semi-nice restaurant. If you took median income of $45k/year, that would be 0.17%. If we assume 1/3 to taxes, it rises to 0.026%.

        2. Can I show you a yellow card for ‘strawman’?
          You are attacking the idea of spending on Social Sciences by attacking the poster for having a belief they really don’t have. (we have infinite resources.)

          Go read the npm’s post below for a defense of why Social Sciences can produce a net benefit if done right. That is more than ‘some value’.

          1. From one perspective, it’s, “What’s the point, it’s a drop in the bucket?”. From the opposite perspective, it’s, “If we can’t take even take THAT SMALL a step towards cutting spending, we’re hopeless.”

            “Go read the npm’s post below for a defense of why Social Sciences can produce a net benefit if done right. That is more than ‘some value’.”

            You know, you can go broke spending only on things with net benefits, if you’re borrowing to do the spending, and the benefit isn’t immediate. At this point, I’d be cheered by evidence that we were EVEN capable of making meaninglessly small spending cuts.

          2. Still a strawman argument, vis infinite resources.

            Additionally, the ‘drop in a bucket’ argument was not what I was defending. Please address that comment directly, not at me.

            As for health care spending and effectiveness of said spending, the net benefits over time could be vast. And we’re aware of the predicted growth of healthcare spending (total spending, not just govt spending), so taking steps to understand and combat that is prudent. (ps. not infinite, or unbounded but finite amounts.)

          3. You know, you can go broke spending only on things with net benefits, if you’re borrowing to do the spending, and the benefit isn’t immediate.

            Only if you don’t know what the phrase “net benefits” actually means.

          4. That’s right, I don’t know what you mean by “net benefits”, I just strongly suspect it doesn’t involve opportunity costs and carrying costs of debt that will never be repaid, only added to.

            Yes, let’s zero out whole categories of spending, and then require each individual line item to be justified from scratch, in detail, or stay zeroed out. Here’s my proposed baseline for federal spending: ZERO.

          5. That’s right, I don’t know what you mean by “net benefits”, I just strongly suspect it doesn’t involve opportunity costs and carrying costs of debt that will never be repaid, only added to.

            Your suspicions are qute incorrect, which illustrates the truth of the first part of your sentence.

            Think “positive net present value.”

            Think “not capital constrained.”

        3. What makes you so certain that the research you’re eager to eliminate isn’t worth what we’re spending on it? Can you elaborate on that?

          1. Why, given a trillion plus deficit, shouldn’t the burden be on anybody who wants to spend the money? IOW, YOU demonstrate it’s worth it, in detail, line item by line item.

          2. Brett, you have shown zero good faith in your arguments here. If you play fair, cop to your strawman stuff about infinite resources, maybe I would feel it’s worth the time.

          3. “Brett Bellmore” is even more lazy than usual in its trolling. Such is the nature of modern Republicanism: incontinent rage blended with chronic self-pity and a total incapacity for honest assessment of reality. We really should rename the poor creature Fret Yellmore. That would at least reflect its priorities.

          4. “Why, given a trillion plus deficit, shouldn’t the burden be on anybody who wants to spend the money? IOW, YOU demonstrate it’s worth it, in detail, line item by line item.”

            Well, sure. I mean, who am I anyway but some guy on the internet with no significant knowledge about the research in question. So I just don’t know if the research is worth what it costs or not. I’m asking.

            But you, on the other hand, seem to have quite firm opinions on the subject, so I’m quite reasonably asking: How do you know? Have you got some relevant expertise? Are you, quite reasonably I might point out, relying on the expert opinion of someone else? If you do, can I see the link?

            Not trying to pick a fight here. You just seem to know something that I don’t, and I’d like to know what it is.

        4. What exactly makes you think Eric Cantor has any idea whatsoever as to the value of social science research.

          I understand Mark’s point to be that Cantor’s proposal is not in fact based on any sort of prioritization of spending based on weighing costs and benefits. Rather, it’s a cheap and ignorant shot at something he doesn’t like for some of the reasons Mark suggests.

          Would you care to refute that, rather than the argument you imagined?

    1. No.
      The point is that Eric Cantor’s prioritization is purely based on what sounds good in a 30 second sound bite.

    2. “I take it the fundamental point being made here is that, since we have infinite resources, we should never prioritize?”

      Wrong. The fundamental point is that we do have to prioritize. And the GOP perpetually prioritizes against scientific research that advances our health and well-being, while at the same time misunderstanding how basic science research works. Of course, it’s their right to remain stupid.

    3. Brett, taking an arbitrary chainsaw to the definition of acceptably fundable research isn’t “prioritizing” – it’s a blatant exercise in know-nothing-ism. This isn’t Cantor saying we need to fight cancer, or hepatitis, or astigmatism for that matter, and more of our research funding should flow in that direction. It’s Cantor saying the government should study research into the human condition, from the smallest of functional molecules all the way up to the whole person – and then must stop. That once the humans under study become people interaction rather than a collection of individuals, the research presumptively loses importance. That we should fund research into the mental health of isolated patients but not into the social structures that pervade their lives and shape their experiences and psyches.

      It’s the defunding of a whole area that gives the game away, that says he’s not simply trying to cut spending while protecting other areas. Especially since his base is fed a distorted image of social science and instructed to view social science as some sort of liberal plot.

      1. Taking an arbitrary chainsaw to a budget, and then requiring every cent of spending you want restored to be individually justified, is essentially the only way we’re going to get spending cuts at this point. It gets past the standard use of a claim a general field is defensible to justify everything done under it without examination.

        And we really, REALLY need budget cuts, at over $1 trillion a year in deficits. Because, no, we’re not cool with keeping all the spending, and then some, and then just increasing the percentage of GDP the government consumes to beyond anything sustained outside of a war threatening national survival.

        Ok, I get it, you DO want that spending increase. Desperately want it, and what it’s spent on is a secondary issue.

        Ok, I get it, you don’t like the idea that social science is somehow more suspect than, say, molecular biology.

        But Cantor isn’t being as irrational here as you’re making him out to be. He’s just not playing to YOUR preferences.

          1. i realize you think you’ve explained it upstream from here but i still find it hilarious that you are unleashing this amount of outrage over an amount that would represent a rounding error over at defense. it is to laugh.

          2. Brett, I do molecular biology for a (very modest) living. No, I don’t think molecular biology is less important (or “more suspect”) than just about anything. I’m sure there’s bad social science; there’s likely even farcical social science. Maybe a more jaundiced eye and less funding are needed in the area, even. But to arbitrarily decide we’re going to fund studies of the human condition across a whole range of topics and scales that arbitrarily and abruptly stop at the boundary between the individual and society isn’t setting priorities – it’s making a profoundly anti-scientific philosophical statement.

          3. (I apparently replied to Navarro’s reply rather than to the parent comment, but it should be pretty clear).

          4. “but i still find it hilarious that you are unleashing this amount of outrage”

            It’s Mark that’s unleashing the outrage, I’m objecting to it.

            Do I think the amounts in question will significantly impact our deficit? Do I think the limitation of the budget axe to social sciences, or science in general, is defensible? No, and no.

            I just think we need to switch from a mindset where last year’s spending plus inflation is a given, and cuts have to be justified, to a mindset where the assumed baseline for spending is ZERO, and every cent proposed to be spent must be justified in detail, or not happen.

            And that if we can’t manage cuts of this miniscule dimension under the present circumstances, we are fing doomed.

          5. I note Nav doesn’t seem interested in the fact that the CBO itself distances itself from the prediction he touts. It’s only February, and some of the assumptions it was based on have already been, unsurprisingly, invalidated.

          6. given mr. bellmore’s relaxed and casual attitude towards truth, logic, reason, consistency, and chronology, i find it somewhat rude of him to press me on the minutiae of the cbo’s scoring of this year’s deficit. regardless, i had not read about any dramatic changes in their scoring for the year.

        1. wait a second:
          You are defending “Taking an arbitrary chainsaw to a budget, and then requiring every cent of spending you want restored to be individually justified”

          My chainsaw is “every item with the letter ‘e’ as the third character”.
          I bet MY chainsaw will rip out more spending than yours, so it’s better!
          Neener Neener!

    4. see my post below
      if the original author had included the following” and we spend 22 billion a year at mcdonalds on mostly unhealthy food” then any rational person would say, huh, order of magnitude, we spned the same on RnD as french fries ? thats crazy…double , no triple RnD spending !!!
      classic mistake to give a number and not frame it; author needs to go back to psychology 101

  8. But couldn’t Cantor at least change his name to Kent? His current behavior constitutes an embarrassment to the rest of the Jews.

    Keep him.

    We gentiles already have enough GO(P)OFBALLS toour discredit. At least Jewish nonothings are confined to a few like Cantor and Lieberman.

    1. I suspect this apparent difference is due at least as much to Jews making up a much small fraction of the population than gentiles do (at least outside of Israel and Utah). The thing is, though, that he would change his name to Kent, it would have no noticeable effect on the fraction (Goofballs who are gentiles)/gentiles but would have a noticeable, if small effect on the fraction (Goofballs who are Jews)/Jews. I think he should do it.

      1. I’m not sure I buy this argument – there are a fair few Jews in the US, and I suspect that proportionately we’ve got as many notorious asshats as any other identifiable group. I think it’s what kind of “goofball” Cantor is that tends to vex some of us: after all, we (or many of us) subscribe to a shared self image that Cantor notably doesn’t fit, on a number of levels:
        1) Placing a high value on scholarship, and on science in particular. This is inconsistent with disdain for the environment, with disbelief in climate change, and with a blanket condemnation of all social science.
        2) Social progressivism, especially on civil rights issues – a topic important to Jews for obvious recent historical reasons, and one that has has seen some significant accomplishments by some prominent American Jews.
        3) A reluctance to put God into public life (since the vast preponderance of the population has a God that isn’t ours, and for a couple thousand years we’ve lived ruled by peoples with a national religion not our own, people who often used that as a reason to impose restrictions upon or even commit atrocities against us).
        4) A largely urban lifestyle, which has correlates: more government regulation to enable people to live close to each other without problems, and less enthusiasm for some aspects of rural life, including guns, which in the city symbolize crime (if sometimes defense from it) rather than a tradition of hunting or even some sepia-toned fantasy of defense of the homestead.
        5) Allegiance to the Democratic Party, at least since FDR and the New Deal and WWII or Truman and the founding of Israel – and before that since Al Smith and the recognition that of the two parties the Democrats were choosing to embrace a national population many of whose noticeable members were recent and often poor immigrants from the periphery of Europe, often despised by the established WASP power structure – a description that applied to the Catholics Al Smith symbolized as well as to the Jewish community, for all that both Catholics and Jews have been here for hundreds of years.

        Basically, the agenda Cantor puts forth is close to a stereotyped Southern Redneck one (more guns, less Government, none of that book larning) and Republican to boot – quite unlike the communal self-image many of us hold dear. If it were just that he’s an embarrassing fellow in general, we’ve got lots of those.

  9. I suspect that this is preparatory to a Continuing Resolution which zeroes out particular Republican bugbears: social science funding, NEH, PBS, Amtrak: the Romney hitlist. The rhetoric will be that we must economize and prioritize. If Obama threatens to veto it, the President is willing to shut down the government over PBS.

  10. I’ve always thought of this as a bias of the upper classes: Health care depends on combination of social and biomedical factors. For lawmakers – and, I imagine, most readers of this blog – the social problems are not our problems, but the fact that biomedical treatments are not available for all conditions is.

    The biomedical factors are simple to understand: Is there a drug or procedure that can effectively treat a disease?

    The social factors are harder: Do you go for appropriate screenings? Can you recognize an illness as needing treatment? Can you get time off work? Can you get an appointment with a doctor? The right doctor? Can you get to the doctor’s office? Do you have someone to care for your children when you are ill? Do you know how to eat healthily? Can you afford healthy food? Do you have a quiet, clean home in which to recuperate? A quiet, safe neighborhood in which to exercise? Can you hire home health aides? Do you have a reliable social support network? Do you have the money to buy the drugs? The education to read and understand the treatment orders? For policymakers, these are not problems.

    In other words, when you can afford and use all available tools, you want more tools. Helping people who don’t use existing tools – well, that’s their problem, isn’t it?

    1. Good point. Maybe it ties into the GOP love of rabid individualism.

      Even a Montana freeman is willing to hear a doctor say something like “This study will tell us whether your BRCA allele puts you at increased risk of breast cancer” On the other hand, nobody—not even liberals, I dare say—wants to hear a sociologist say “This study will tell us whether your stress level puts you at risk of committing domestic violence.” It’s talking about things you think of as choices; it devalues your individual self image (“I choose my stress level, and I choose not to commit violence”) and lumping you in with people outside of your clan-of-empathy.

      From the liberal end, we can accept a general-good that comes out of the a social-sciences approach. If we knew more about stress and domestic violence generally, we’d be able to sculpt public-policy responses that help reduce violence. From the rump-GOP perspective—well, they don’t want public-policy responses to these things to begin with! Who cares about the correlation between “two things you shouldn’t spend my tax money on anyway”?

      Additionally, I suspect that the GOP has inherited a Limbaugh/Horowitz level memory of the theory wars and culture wars of the 80s and 90s. You say “sociology”, Horowitz says “some unreadable Ph.D. thesis on the hermeneutics of signifying in genderqueer grunge band fandom”. They’re not thinking of it as connected to policy or knowledge at all.

    2. “The biomedical factors are simple to understand: Is there a drug or procedure that can effectively treat a disease?”

      I think not. This is from a NY Times obit almost 20 years ago: Dr. Enid R. Peschel, a medical educator and researcher at Yale University, died on Monday at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Dr. Peschel, who lived in Woodbridge, Conn., was 51. [KR note–This was in 1994] … Dr. Peschel was an adjunct assistant professor of internal medicine and co-director of the program for humanities in medicine at the School of Medicine at Yale. … She and her husband wrote “When a Doctor Hates a Patient and Other Chapters in a Young Physician’s Life” (1986). She also was the author or co-editor of 10 other books.

      At the Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Peschel directed research (and teaching) in the subject area of how social/psychological factors influence the effectiveness of treatment. The underlying principal was/is that the drugs and procedures are NOT independent of the social factors.

  11. Didn’t the Republican investment in cultivating ignorance begin with Gingrich’s defunding the House of Representatives Office of Technical Assessment in 1995?

    1. No, it began with Reagan defunding a bunch of data collection in BLS in 1981. Much easier to lie about the effects of your policies if no one is collecting the data to prove you wrong.

      And even if you just interrupt a data series for a few years you’ve done irreparable damage.

  12. Just want to point out that nearly half the comments to date to the OP are in response to a sophomoric comment from Brett. With nothing gained or learned. I understand the impulse but I hope y’all will think twice before scratching the itch next time.

  13. I’m calling b.s. on MobiusKlein, J. Michael Neal, Tim, and probably others in this thread: you’re all acting [writing] as though npm’s comment of 8:00 am 2/7 thoroughly demolishes anything Brett Bellmore says. It doesn’t do anything remotely like that. Npm suggests that, in theory, under certain circumstances, some types of research into social factors affecting provision and usage of health care might yield positive benefits. Nothing in npm’s comment, or in the OP or in this thread, proves, or offers evidence to believe, that the $247 million the federal gov’t currently spends on “social, behavioral and economic sciences” actually does, in the real world, have a net positive economic effect.

    I don’t doubt that someone here could dig up a study claiming such an effect – hell, using spurious multipliers is par for the course these days; if you don’t claim your favored activity saves 10 bajillion dollars and creates 500,000 jobs, you’re not even trying. So some interested party has probably made the claim. But nobody here has pointed to independent, reliable evidence to support the claim.

    So let me say: I don’t believe it. For a second. People whose livelihood isn’t invested in this work believe that we can say, with confidence, that we’ll see a net positive economic benefit from this stuff? From >economics<? The field where someone won a Nobel Prize not too long ago for pointing out to his peers that people are sometimes irrational?

    And anyway, is this research so valuable, so demonstrably valuable, that it will pay off big! and yet it will not be done at all if it's not funded by the U.S. federal government? Does Harvard not have $37 billion to make up some of the difference? Come on.

    This is an age of zero-sum budgeting and, if nobody can come up with actual, credible evidence of a net positive benefit to federal funding for economics and sociolgy, then, as Brett suggests, we have to prioritize. My priorities put Medicaid, food stamps, TANF, extended unemployment insurance, and a long list of other programs way, way above giving tax dollars to pay for economists. If there's money left over after we fully fund our priorities and eliminate farm subsidies, oil and gas subsidies, and most of NASA, raise taxes on the rich, etc., then hey, throw some money towards social sciencies. In a world with fewer budget constraints, we could appreciate social sciencies as academic fields worthy of exploration without needing to fall back on unsubstantiated claims of economic benefits. I'd be all in favor of that. But, in 2013, something's gotta give.

    1. Bah, the know nothings are good at picking out some study that sounds bad, but is quite defensible in the field. I tend to trust the experts in the field over Sarah Palin, Eric Cantor, and Brett Bellmore.

      Perhaps when Brett learns to argue in good faith, and acknowledge decent counterarguments, will we take his demands seriously.

    2. This is an age of zero-sum budgeting…

      Wearing his ideology on his sleeve “right” next to the snot stains…
      Meanwhile the IMF cautions:

      “If crisis risks do not materialize and financial conditions continue to improve, global growth could be stronger than projected,” the Washington-based fund said in its economic report. “However, downside risks remain significant, including renewed setbacks in the euro area and risks of excessive near-term fiscal consolidation in the United States. Policy action must urgently address these risks.”

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/business/economy/imf-forecast-global-economic-growth-modest-at-best.html?smid=pl-share

      As a side note, it is not just anti-science that makes the Stupid party stupid. It’s their creepy situational ethics that “deficits don’t matter” when they are in power, but do when they are out of power.

      1. koreyel,
        that comment was a little obscure, but I take it that it was directed at me. What ideology is it that you think I’m wearing on my sleeve? I have been fighting a cold for the last couple of weeks, so you’re not wrong about the snot stains.

  14. a few things-Perhaps someone with the requisite skills could do a search of mr.Belmores threads from the 20000-20008 period to discover what minute fraction expressed the sort of monomaniacal concern with Fed. gov thrift which magically became his presiding concern when the democrats captured the white house. Im also guessing the avalanche of fed spending that would have followed a romney victory would have warmed the cockles of his heart (Shh., don,t say Keynes.) And just to prove that this is by no means a new phenomenom note the INVARIABLE bump in decicit spending during Conservative regimes from 1980 forward, coupled with poorer economic performance across the board. With Plutocrats like this, who needs foreign enemies.

  15. Millions of people facing involuntary unemployment, and we get lectures about “prioritizing”? To engage such lunacy is to concede it wholly undeserved legitimacy.

  16. And anyway, is this research so valuable, so demonstrably valuable, that it will pay off big! and yet it will not be done at all if it’s not funded by the U.S. federal government?

    On this particular point, the concepts of collective action problems and externalities seem not to have been considered.

      1. the distinction between social and private benefits was fully considered. The existence of social benefit is wholly speculative at this point; it has been waved at, but not demonstrated, by the commenters here. As a general concept, assuming arguendo that such benefit exists, Byomtov, you are the one who could be read to be assuming that no social benefit can accrue unless it is funded by the federal gov’t. The funding we’re talking about here appears to consist, primarily, in grants to universities for, inter alia, work in sociology, political science, and economics. Do universities not do those things on their own, even if they don’t get specific federal grants for them? And if they do, then can’t social benefits arise from that work? The point I was making in the passage you’re discussing is that, of course sociology, economics and the rest will continue to go on. Universities do lots of things that benefit the wider community, and they’ll keep doing those things (perhaps to a marginally lesser degree) even if this particular pot of federal funding is cut off.

        By the way, as I noted in my original post, what I want is to see the money redirected to other programs. My organization’s childless adult Medicaid clients, many of whom have been cut off from any cash assistance entirely by Tom Corbett (they used to get a princely $205/month), are being charged copays for their doctor’s visits and prescription drugs. Do I think federal money for economics, where well-endowed universities could and most likely would pick up the slack, should be redirected to Medicaid patients? You’re goddamn right I do. And there, sir, is your social benefit. And, I might add, your collective action, since wealthy private donors and university endowment managers are vastly more likely to come together to replace funding to a poli sci department than they are to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for poor Americans.

        1. Do I think federal money for economics, where well-endowed universities could and most likely would pick up the slack, should be redirected to Medicaid patients? You’re goddamn right I do.

          If it’s an either/or matter, I have to agree. I’m not so sure it is, but still.

          And, I might add, your collective action, since wealthy private donors and university endowment managers are vastly more likely to come together to replace funding to a poli sci department than they are to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for poor Americans.

          Not a bad point.

          P.S. Pennsylvania’s doing a bang-up job on the stupid front in a number of areas these days.

        2. If you don’t want to be mistaken for someone who doesn’t understand the difference between private benefits and scoial benefits, don’t write things like,

          “And anyway, is this research so valuable, so demonstrably valuable, that it will pay off big! “

          That sure sounds like the value you assign to research is based on how profitable it is to private parties.

          My organization’s childless adult Medicaid clients, many of whom have been cut off from any cash assistance entirely by Tom Corbett (they used to get a princely $205/month), are being charged copays for their doctor’s visits and prescription drugs.

          If you think the money saved is going to be redirected to adult Medicaid patients over the objections of the Tom Corbetts of the world you need to study politics a bit yourself.

          1. Cuts to Medicaid is one very specific target of the current House GOP – in their Dec. 2012 bill to avert the sequester, one thing they did was to replace defense cuts with cuts to Medicaid. I think that’s evil and despicable and I’d like to see defense slashed radically before a penny of Medicaid is cut, but I recognize that the Medicaid program is, indeed, a major cost to state budgets these days, and it’s not the case that we can just endlessly expect states, with their mandatory balanced-budget rules, to fund increases in Medicaid spending if we don’t find more money for them elsewhere, and there’s not exactly a filibuster-proof majority in Congress these days for slashing defense radically. There might, perhaps, myabe, be a coalition for moderating cuts to Medicaid if we can find money elsewhere, in such spending areas as subsidies for soft science endeavors that universities are likely to do on their own anyway. So yes, in fact, there is some chance that money saved from social science grants might ultimately result in more money being made available for Medicaid. Just because Tom Corbett is a bad guy doesn’t mean that budget realities and federal funding choices don’t come into play when GOP-controlled states draw up their own budgets.

  17. This is an age of zero-sum budgeting

    That is a political choice, not an economic necessity. The failure to adequately fund the needs of your clients is a political decision, not a fiscal policy or resource constraint. You are taking out your (eminently valid) frustrations on the wrong target(s).

  18. This post, by the blog author, has two errors, one moderate and one huge
    The moderate error is this:
    Quote
    “The U.S. currently spends about $27 billion a year on biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health, and something less than a quarter of that amount ($6 billion per year) on all other scientific research [emphasis added] through the National Science Foundation.”

    possibly poor phrasing, but there is a lot of RnD funded by Dept of Ag, ONR [~1.5 bn], DARPA [~ 3 Bn], NOAA, DOE [0.4 Bn fusion program alone], etc
    YOu could take the abbreviation “U.S.” to mean the gov’t, but it could also mean the whole country, in which case you have to add private players like the HHMI [~ 1bn/yr], other foundations like pew ford rockefeller koch [new building at MIT, koch cancer center], Eli Broad…, which is spending via tax preference
    IMO, ya gonna call people stupid, shouldn’t make boneheaded mistakes.

    The bigger error, one that is so common most people don’t realize it is an error, is to NOT FRAME THE NUMBER. If the author, who clealry considers himself educated and smart, had the slightest knowledge of psychology like Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, he would know that we need to frame numbers..what on earth does 30 billion mean by itself ?

    without some other numbers, we have no way of knowing, so,as Kahneman posits, our fast stupid brain uses highly error prone heuristics to fill the gap

    For instance, if the orignial post had said:
    we spend x billion on RnD
    The annual revenue of Ford motor is 120 billion
    The annual revenue of McDonalds is 27 billion
    Back in *1917* expenditures on music education were 0.2 billion (1)
    etc

    Then the reader would have some way of understanding what X means; they would have some feel that X is big or small
    without this framing, people will put meaning in to X according to their pre built feelings.

    1) http://books.google.com/books?id=Y70pAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA156&lpg=PA156&dq=amount+spent+annually+on+music+instruction&source=bl&ots=liB0icBs2u&sig=tzlJfJZdnOb_Af34AoRpays81Oc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yn8WUYGUKau20AHAkIHgBw&ved=0CEMQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=amount%20spent%20annually%20on%20music%20instruction&f=false

    etc

  19. If I may, as a PhD in molecular biology, all fields are subject to sturgeon’s law, but there does seem to be an awful lot of stupid stuff in the social sciences.
    For instance, I read in the N Y Times recently that the entire field of human evolutionary psychology thought that men like casual sex more then woman.
    The basis for this ?
    A single study (!) where an attractive man or woman approached strangers on a college campus and asked the stranger if they would like to have sex..
    I mean, is this serious ?
    or the propensity of psychologists to do studys on college students in totally artificial situations
    or the site of one Tenured Princeton Nobel Prize winner (P Krugman, n y times) calling other equally prominent professors idiots (i paraphase) and getting back as good as he gives….
    I mean, what is congress supposed to think when super promient economists can’t get basic facts down and call each other idiots in public ?
    that thesepeople deserve more money ?
    At least in the molecular biology field, we bury our stupid mistakes in obscure journals and don’t let outsiders see them

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