Why Archaeology Matters: A Crisis in Federal Funding of Archaeological Research

Tune in at 6PM ET tonight to hear us discuss the recent attacks on National Science Foundation Funding from Capitol Hill.

(UPDATE:  one of our listeners pointed out that the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology is holding a hearing today on the National Science Foundation http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-research-and-technology-hearing-keeping-america-first-federal-investments.)

Why does NSF choose “to fund research on Mayan architecture over projects that could help our wounded warriors or save lives?”–excerpt from Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith’s USA Today Article

What should the government spend taxpayers’ dollars on?  Although always an important point of debate on Capitol Hill, the economic downturn seen in recent years has garnered increasing attention for an already highly contested issue.  A few weeks ago, the issue reached its zenith when the federal government shut down, unable to resolve the issue.

Joyce photo

Dr. Rosemary Joyce is a Mayan specialist who has received NSF funding knows all about the integrity of the rigorous peer review process applicants must go through.

A central question in this debate is the role of science research in the federal budget and the future of the United States.  Is funding science research integral to our society’s development, or is it a luxury that should take back seat to more pressing issues?  Is all science research equally useful, or should we focus on those projects perceived to have the largest, most direct effects?  With the current economic situation, should we be funding projects in other countries, or should we focus on those within our own borders where the economic benefits such projects bring as well as their outcome can be more directly enjoyed by the taxpayers’ funding these projects?

On September 30, 2013 two Representatives, Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith, published their response to such questions.  In their USA Today article, Cantor and Smith acknowledged that while funding science research through National Science Foundation (NSF) grants itself was not a bad idea, Congress should take a harder look at the types of projects these grants funded.  Cantor and Smith argue that not all science is equal, and that some research is more relevant.  They specifically single out several projects they deem less necessary.  Critics elsewhere have noted that the projects singled out have two things in common:  1. they come exclusively from the social and behavioral sciences, and 2. they have an international component.


Dr. James Doyle has worked in Guatamala funded by the NSF. He argues that international projects are not only beneficial to American taxpayers, but also an integral part of foreign diplomacy.

Unsurprisingly, the article generated a backlash amongst social and behavioral science researchers, who not only felt the article misconstrued both their research as well as the stringent requirements such grants require, but also saw in the article part of a larger movement to restructure science funding and re-prioritize research agendas.  The article created enough stir to be covered on more popular, general sites such as this Groupthink article, and the Society of Historical Archaeology (@SHA_org) even generated a Twitter hashtag #WhyArchMatters.  It continues to be a hot topic of debate and discussion, and has united many social scientists to take a firm stand and strike back (See this article in Nature published online yesterday.)

Archaeologists, in particular, were especially vehement in their reactions, and a number of them published reactions on both personal and professional blogs and websites (i.e. Society for Historical Archaeology’s response, the American Anthropological Association’s reaction, Defending Archaeology from Anthropology News,  and Savage Mind’s Social Science witch hunt post).

Smith photo

Dr. Adam Smith has explored the political motivations behind attacks on the NSF in his blog post.

On tonight’s show, we will be taking a closer look at the topic of science funding and archaeology in particular.  Joining us will be three archaeologists: Dr. Rosemary Joyce, Dr. James Doyle, and Dr. Adam Smith, each of whom has already published a response to the Cantor and Smith article on their personal blog pages.  During the show we will be discussing the merit and validity of Cantor and Smith’s critiques, breaking down the false dichotomy and misrepresentations they promote, and making the case for WHY archaeology should be a national priority.

Don’t forget to tune in tonight at 6PM ET on VoiceAmerica’s Variety channel.  Until then, make sure you take our poll and let us know what YOU think about the issue!


5 thoughts on “Why Archaeology Matters: A Crisis in Federal Funding of Archaeological Research

    • Thanks Diane for adding the link…it’s great to see that this topic is generating a much needed discussion and that people are speaking out!

      If anyone knows of other links on the subject, please feel free to post them here in the comments.

  1. Pingback: Notes from Joe: Final Thoughts on the NSF | Trowel Points

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