Anyhow: Got a spreadsheet with the titles of 2,276 projects funded in latest #SSHRC round to review. Projects like $17,500 for "Philosophical investigation of mindfulness and the wandering mind”. #ottawaspends— David Akin 🇨🇦 (@davidakin) November 17, 2017
This one tweet does not have a heap of context, but it seems to have some contempt for philosophy. Another tweet by Akin sends a similar message:
Another successful philosopher: This one at Queen’s U, an $80K doctoral fellowship for project titled: “Thinking in Time” #Ottawaspends— David Akin 🇨🇦 (@davidakin) November 17, 2017
As a social scientist, I get defensive about criticisms of agencies that fund social science. Even if the implicit criticism is of Philosophy, which is not my area of interest/work (indeed, I often complained at my old job about how the political philosophers were far more successful in empire building than the IR types).
Anyhow, throwing out titles without context is a fun twitter game, but does not really tell you much about the project.
Was "Double Hats, Double Trouble: Understanding the Problem of Delegation in Multilateral Military Intervention" something that could be mocked on twitter? Yes, and yet it produced a project that ended up being well published (the usual indicator of success) and was of much interest to the policy world (another indicator)Sure, I have my own problems with grant review committees (when they don't give me money), but they read the whole proposal and not just the title. What it smacks of is anti-intellectualism--that these high falutin' thinkers are focused on abstract stuff rather than real problems so why are they getting money?
Perhaps I am overreacting because I saw how this game was played in the US where politicians would play it and then try to gut the National Science Foundation. Mostly because we political scientists would ask questions about how and why they did their jobs the way they did. Ooops. Whether Akin is consciously trying to provide aid and comfort and info to the enemies of social science and the humanities (SSHRC stands for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) is not clear, but the effect may be the same.
Why be so defensive, Steve? Surely, more info is good. Yeah, it is, but presented in this way, it can create problematic perceptions of the realities of grant funding. And then folks might try to either cut it or micromanage it. Which leads to a basic Saideman response: if attacked, respond. I am not a pacifist in the online debates of stuff--if you don't respond, you are letting the other side dominate the debate. What good is that? [Which means I am easily trolled]
The basic idea of funding the social sciences and the humanities is that more knowledge about why we behave (social sciences) and what we value (humanities) and how we think (both) and what we create (both) is a public good, and governments help to facilitate public goods. While I am not opposed to private financing of research, it can be problematic (drug companies won't want info released about the harm their drugs might cause) and because Canada's tax laws don't provide much incentives for charitable giving, there is not much private money from foundations.
There are good questions to ask about Canada's funding of research. For instance, SSHRC went from providing many smaller grants to providing fewer but larger grants. Has this led to more research? Better outcomes? There has been a tendency to reserve more and more money for specific topics? What has been the effect of that? Listing grants by their titles is not going to lead to these kinds of questions being asked.
I am sure Akin doesn't want to do away with SSHRC, and twitter is not a friendly media for nuanced conversations, but ripping through a bunch of projects based on their titles tends to send a message. Whether it is intentional or not, the message "Ottawa wastes its money on pointy head intellectuals" seems to be the one that is being sent. Not good.