David Brooks on the value of social science

It sure was nice of David Brooks to write this piece highlighting why the National Science Foundation division for the social and behavioral sciences shouldn’t get the axe. Lately, the academy has been taking its hard knocks — for example, Andrew Hacker’s written and verbal diatribes on the failings of our colleges and universities. And I am prepared to accept that many academic institutions — perhaps the academy more generally — would benefit from some serious reform before we are able to fully realize the potential for social good that is expected. Nonetheless, in a cost-cutting climate, it would be a shame if (relatively low cost) social science research were scaled back just at a time when American social scientists are increasingly focused on usable knowledge, just in the manner Brooks observes. I don’t think near-term benefits or immediately practical knowledge ought to be the only or even the main rationales for society to make  collective investments in systematic study of social and political patterns. But it’s heartening, and hopefully persuasive, that social science can occasionally help us to make good policies including spending tax dollars more wisely.

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