Friday, January 28, 2011

The upside of working on stuff no one cares about

There was an astonishing article in the New York Times on Wednesday about the ways in which the N.R.A. has systematically blocked research into gun violence--including such central and seemingly non-partisan questions as whether owning a gun makes people safer or less safe, or whether waiting periods or background checks have any effect.

The N.R.A.'s contention is that, basically, any research into gun violence is politically slanted. It has therefore worked to defund the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which used to perform the bulk of research into firearm injury and safety. Although Congress still funds the C.D.C. for research on traumatic brain injuries, there is a stipulation that "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control. . . may be used to advocate or promote gun control."

Although funding is available through private foundations, those foundations tend to be "much more interested in work that leads to immediate results and less willing to finance basic epidemiological research"--or in other words, private foundations tend to be more partisan and less willing to let scientific research take its course.

It's been a long time since I felt this grateful to be doing work that nobody cares enough to restrict, and that doesn't require enough funding to defund.


Anonymous said...

Wait until the Republicans have slashed the NEH and NEA. They have already started doing this kind of stuff in my state.

rachel said...

i've always maintained that it's great to teach about regions that students know little about. i can be as radical as i want to and they haven't the faintest clue! my middle east specialist colleagues, not so much. even the americanists need to watch their backs. but my region? tabula rasa for my students, and i always chortle when they reflect back a solid critique of the state-produced narrative of the place i work on.

Flavia said...

Anon 12.55: part of my point is that humanities researchers (and especially literary scholars), don't actually need much funding. Now that I have a Ph.D. and a reasonably well-paid job, my additional funding needs are slight: sure, I need to go to archives overseas occasionally, and I wish I had easier access to a good rare books library. But even if I spent a month at a rare books library every year, and a couple of weeks researching overseas every two years, that averages out to maybe $3,000/year. That's not nothin', but with a full-time salary I could find the money myself if I couldn't get funding through my institution, the archive itself, or a public or private fund.

We need the NEH and the NEA. But cuts to those budgets don't make the study of particular subjects off-limits or unfeasible.

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