Demonstrators arose at last week’s American Political Science Association annual meeting with signs exhorting their fellow members to “Stand Up to Torture” by bodily turning their backs on John Yoo, late of the George W. Bush administration, who presented to two sessions on wholly unrelated topics. The protests’ premise was apparently that some views so exceed the pale that those who espouse them ought not to be given a scholarly hearing even on other topics. One might have more confidence in their judgment that Yoo—of whose views on presidential authority and the legality of torture I have been sharply critical—resides beyond that pale if the pale’s scope were not permanently shifting.
So I spoke at what the American Political Science Association apparently viewed as one of the key sessions of their recent annual meeting. The session was about how to respond to the “Coburn Amendment.” Sen. Coburn successfully proposed that funding to political science be limited to projects that demonstrated a contribution to either economic prosperity or natural security.
Coburn’s amendment is easy to dismiss as anti-science. But I assumed that the APSA would regard it as a three-part challenge. Is political science really science? Is political science really useful in achieving the goals for which the National Science Foundation was created? Does political science hide behind its claim to be real science to advance a partisan agenda that’s not at all objective, that’s all about values and not about facts?