Last May, the U.S. House of Representative passed an amendment that would allow Congress to interfere with the peer review process at the National Science Foundation. Specifically, the bill would prohibit the NSF from funding research in political science. Does this have any implications for archaeology?
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake (R) from my state of Arizona. Flake wants to politicize funding at NSF. He objects to wasteful spending on merit-less research by political scientists, such as $700,000 to develop a new model for international climate
change analysis and $600,000 to try to figure out if policymakers
actually do what citizens want them to do.
There is quite a bit online about this, including Ezra Klein's blog at the Washington Post and an excellent editorial in Nature, which includes the statement, " To conclude that hard problems are better solved by not studying them is ludicrous. Should we slash the physics budget if the problems of dark-matter and dark-energy are not solved?" I was just reminded of this episode by an eloquent letter to the editor in the September 21 issue of Science by Arthur Lupia. Fortunately, Flake's amendment has little chance of passing the Senate.This is just the latest is a long line of conservative attacks on science, and on the social sciences in particular.
So, what about archaeology? If political science is not seen as a rigorous science, where does that leave us? Can we expect the likes of Jeff Flake (who is running for Senate from Arizona right now, an outcome scarier than Halloween) to come after archaeology? Some archaeologists would like to see our field as providing data and findings relevant to contemporary concerns. Should we tone down any such implications to keep the politicians at bay? If political science research on climate change is ideologically suspect, what about archaeological research on past climates, or on sustainability?
Maybe we should all pursue postmodern themes. After all, Frederic Jameson tells us that postmodernism is "the cultural logic of late capitalism." (Verso, 1991)
Conservative politicians ought to like that! If we write in postmodern prose, people like Jeff Flake won't be able to understand what we are saying, and it will be hard for them to find it objectionable. No, on second thought, if we go postmodern I won't be able to understand it either. (By the way, I see that the Postmodern Text Generator is still going strong. Just click the refresh button a few times for new essays).
My suggestion is that we should do our work as rigorously and as scientifically as we can. I am more worried about politicians claiming that archaeology is not really a science (and thus not worthy of NSF support) than about claims that our work is too political, as in Flake's case. Of course by this I mean Science-1 (scientific epistemology), not Science-2 (the occasional use of scientific techniques, sometimes in service of an anti-science agenda like postmodern archaeology). See my prior posts on this: Rejected by Science!, or Science type 1 vs. Science type 2, or John Gerring: Methodological Unity or Diversity?.