Congress, the NSF, Archaeology, and Anthropology…

Hello Greater Southeastern Archaeology Hive-Mind,

Everyone should take a peek at this:

http://news.sciencemag.org/policy/2014/10/battle-between-nsf-and-house-science-committee-escalates-how-did-it-get-bad

And in particular, this quote:

More than half of the grants appear to involve work outside the United States. The largest number—29—were funded through NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) sciences directorate. Of those, 21 came from SBE’s behavioral and cognitive sciences division, including a number of grants in archeology and anthropology. But six of NSF’s seven directorates and its Office of Polar Science also funded grants on Smith’s hit list.

Does this mean we’re doing something wrong? Are we dropping the ball on communicating the relevance of what we study?

Or are we doing something right in that “the powers that be” are threatened by what we do, because we’ve historically challenged the status quo?

Either way…I’m going to listen to some Rage Against the Machine this morning.

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5 comments on “Congress, the NSF, Archaeology, and Anthropology…

  1. David Cranford says:

    While I think we could always do a better job communicating the nature, relevance, and importance of our research to the public and governmental entities, it seems pretty clear in this case that no amount communication would be enough to satisfy those that are ideologically opposed to the role science plays in our society. There seems to be a willful and deliberate attempt on the part of many conservative actors to selectively undermine scientific research that does not fit with their particular political persuasion or have an apparent personal benefit. I don’t think we (as archaeologists and anthropologists, let alone graduate students) have done anything wrong. We shouldn’t give up trying to communicate our ideas and our data, but we also have to recognize that this is not really about funding particular projects in the social sciences. (The NSF Social, Behavioral, and Economic division budget is minuscule compared to military and defense spending- $7 billion is a big number but the republican staffers only looked at projects totaling $26.08 million; 0.37% of NSF spending and only 0.0007% of the total US spending ($3.77trillion)!!!)

    I don’t believe the Republican members of the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology actually truly care about the merits of individual projects, I think they found projects that they and their constituents don’t care about. I think it would be easy to cherry-pick research projects that don’t immediately connect to the lives of millions of Americans; does that mean that those researchers didn’t effectively communicate the goals or merits of their research? Of course not. Does that mean the research is frivolous or not worthy of funding? Of course not. We need to continue to find effective and productive ways to communicate with the public and policy makers, but they have to be willing to listen!

    Grrr. Thanks a lot Shane; now I’m mad and pessimistic. I don’t know if it exists, but I’m going to try and find some “Rage Against the Banjo” type music…

  2. dover1952 says:

    I am probably more of an activist political animal than anyone else I know in archaeology and anthropology: Five comments:

    1) Generally speaking, the conservative and Tea Party extremist wings of the Republican Party in Congress view all social sciences as liberal/progressive wasp nests where people generate ideas and concepts that are highly critical of American culture and are ultimately aimed at destruction of the TRADITIONAL culture of the United States of America. When the old global communists went away with the fall of the Berlin Wall and USSR, American conservatives were left with a political machine designed primarily to fight communists. What do you do when your real communist enemies are not there anymore? Right!!! You imagine, generate, and create a “straw man” communist or socialist enemy at home so the political machine can continue to do the only thing it knows how to do. Problem is: We social scientists are the new “communist” or “socialist” entity on the American stage—the enemy of American society and the American people. As far as they are concerned, they have met the new enemy, and he is us.

    2) Social scientists are free thinkers and creators—not too distant from artists and musicians. Politicians with an authoritarian or totalitarian mindset have always feared and tried to eliminate people like us because they believe we hold within our hands the unique incisive thought patterns and creative means to influence the masses into rising up against them and deposing them. We must be eliminated so they can survive. Conservative Republicans and Tea Party types see people like us as dire threats to everything they deem precious in American life.

    3) Conservative Republican/Tea Party Congressmen and the people who support them are convinced that K-12 and college textbooks have been filled to the brim with liberal/socialist lies that are even now destroying the traditional fabric of American society. Both nationally and at the state level, these people are trying to rewrite American history and social science textbooks so they will reflect right wing nutjob ideology. They are trying to do the same thing with science textbooks. If you doubt me, all you have to do is go to the Texas Freedom Network website and study up on the war the Republican/Tea Party/Right Wingnut faction on the Texas State Board of Education is waging against science and social science teaching/textbooks in Texas. Talk about something scary!!! Go to this blog and read: http://tfninsider.org/

    4) Republican/Tea Party members of Congress view social scientists as people who take money from the government and never give anything of real value back to the government or the American people in return. You can make arguments about the value of archaeology and anthropology to these people until you are blue in the face, and almost no one will buy any of those arguments. They are very materialistic people. If research does not result in the creation of something valuable for national defense or something that will generate new products for sale and new jobs—then it lies somewhere within the range of worthless.

    When November 8, 2014, rolls around, all of us will need to learn how to repeat this phrase, so let’s get in some practice. Repeat after me: “The majority of elected officials in my government—conservative and Tea Party Republicans— believe I am a worthless leach sucking on the neck of American government.” Now, repeat that 10 times.

    5) You have probably seen the adds on Yahoo! and various other Internet venues where students are warned that archaeology and anthropology degrees will be worthless for getting a job. Yes, I know the purpose of those ads is to help the millions of students who cannot find entry level jobs after graduation (i.e. major in some other field). However, I think it is having a broader spectrum effect on the American public mind at large—and I suspect we are going to be hearing about it soon. So many people of all ages have seen those ads that I suspect another message is drifting into the American collective mind hive: “Oh, you are an archaeologist? I read about you on Yahoo! It said you and other people like you are worthless.” Be prepared for it at your next cocktail party.

    I am not an expert on many things—but I have fought and studied so very much on this front over the past 6 years that I feel like an expert on it. Here is all you have to know. The once great Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, etc. is largely gone. The Republican political base now consists primarily of right wing extremist ideologues and religious extremists, many of whom are truly frightening. I have read many of their writings, and most of these people are just plain nuts—and they hate you.

  3. David G. Anderson says:

    All politics starts off at the local level. Become involved there, support candidates and positions you approve of (or become one yourself), speak out whenever you feel it is appropriate and necessary, take part in meetings and gatherings in support of things you believe in, and above all vote every time there is an election. Political activism means becoming politically active… its as simple as that, but it does require effort. You may not win, but you will have tried, and helped at least in some way shape the agenda. Two of my favorite sayings are “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing” and “The way to fight evil everywhere is to fight it anywhere.” The same perspective holds for dealing with any of the major issues facing our society and global civilization… working toward change, and solutions, at any level, is better than staying on the sidelines.

    • dover1952 says:

      Thanks David. You are correct, which is why I have done exactly that for the past 6 years. In 2012, I campaigned for Obama and state-level Democrats by sending email messages to numerous anthropologists throughout the Southeast and Midwest, particularly in the swing state of Ohio. I got some very positive responses and some very negative ones.

      I suspect there is also a “wet noodle” factor in this at the local level among anthropologists and archaeologists. Here in Tennessee, which is about as Red as Texas and just as nutty in its General Assembly, I sense a great potential for archaeologists and anthropologists to say:

      “It is wrong for us to become overtly political on any level. We should just lay low, be careful to never look as if we are associated with one or another political party (because we want every politician to be on our side), and let whatever we want to do in the political realm stand or fall solely on the basis of its own technical merits and how strongly we can make our cases for them.”

      Two things I know to my own satisfaction:

      1) The Archaeology in Tennessee blog leans Democrat and is not ashamed to admit it because Democrats are bleeding-heart “do gooders” who care about things such as preservation of archaeological and historic sites. We are overtly in-your-face political, and we plan to stay that way for a very long time. We campaign for candidates we perceive to be friendly to American archaeology and anthropology.

      2) Have you seen the prices on popcorn at movie theaters? If I had a dime for every artifact collector and site looter who has told me straight up that their heart is one with the Tea Party, I could actually afford to buy some of that popcorn. Why is that? They believe the Tea Party stands for private property rights, and they stand for getting the government at all levels out of the private lives of private citizens (like artifact collectors and looters) so they can—once again—be free to collect and loot however they want to do so, whenever they want to do so, and wherever they want to do so. You know: “I just long for the old days when all the river valleys were mine and jumping a farmer’s fence to sneak off with a good haul of arrowheads was something everybody did.”

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