A STEM Discipline By Any Other Name?

Current discussion of education policy in the United States, both at the secondary and postsecondary levels, is heavily focused (some cynics might suggest monomanically so) on the development of skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  The implications of this shift for the traditional liberal arts have been hotly contested; what has not been as thoroughly discussed is whether the social and behavioral sciences are on the politically-favored side of the STEM divide, and whether political science in particular ought to more actively campaign for inclusion in STEM initiatives.

Certainly there is a risk of political science being excluded from these opportunities; most notoriously, the perennial effort to defund the National Science Foundation's support for political science* was able to command the support of a majority of representatives in a roll-call vote earlier this year, and was sponsored by Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who himself earned a master's degree in political science.  Even if not excluded, the social sciences may be neglected as a potential source of STEM knowledge; in an ironic example, the NSF's effort to defund the field led to coverage in leading scientific journals like Science and Nature that rarely feature political science research themselves.  And sometimes political scientists arrive at uncomfortable conclusions that reflect badly on government (in matters of both domestic and international politics), which may lead to antipathy toward the field by elected officials.

On the other hand, emphasizing political science's potential contributions as a STEM discipline may antagonize those who believe quantitative and (to a lesser extent) qualitative empirical work have been overemphasized at the expense of other approaches to studying and understanding politics.  In the face of a political reality in which government is even more focused than in the past on promoting approaches and fields with demonstrable, immediate worth—even going so far as to propose higher tuition subsides for STEM fields over others—such antagonism may be inevitable, if undesirable.

* Grants from the NSF, among others, of course support OPOSSEM.