If anything, what [Bytes, Bombs and Spies] points out is how little value you can get from traditional political-science terms and concepts. Escalatory ladder makes little sense with a domain where a half-decade of battlefield preparation and pre-placement are required for attacks, where attacks have a more nebulous connection to effect, deniability is a dominant characteristic, and where intelligence gathering and kinetic effect require the same access and where emergent behavior during offensive operations happens far beyond human reaction time.


The debate about cyber-security in political science and international relations has been very visible among policy elites. Policy-makers and their advisers read Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. However, political and social scientists often do not appreciate the technical details of network breaches, or security setups in critical infrastructure and industrial plants.

Most political scientists also lack the technical skills to call out poor- quality company reports or government documents. Instead, too many scholars seem happy to engage in self-referential theoretical debates of little relevance to anybody else – for instance, on the ‘securitisation’ of cyber-security.

  • Robert M. Lee and Thomas Rid. (2014). “OMG Cyber!: Thirteen Reasons Why Hype Makes for Bad Policy,” The RUSI Journal 169(5).

I cannot overstate how emphatically I agree with this general assessment of political science analyses of digital security issues.


Senate Delivers a Devastating Blow to the Integrity of the Scientific Process at the National Science Foundation — WASHINGTON, March 20, 2013




The amendment places unprecedented restriction on the national research agenda by declaring the political science study of democracy and public policy out of bounds. The amendment allows only political science research that promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.”

holy shit, that’s disgusting

Practically speaking this will have almost no effect on political science research. The National Science Foundation (the US government agency that manages research funding) is advancing a slippery-slope argument to talk about why their independence has been threatened. But the NSF still ultimately decides where the grants go.

It’s very easy to argue that basically all research of “democracy and public policy” is useful for national security, economic interests, or both. Maybe funding applications will need to include a paragraph explaining why their research is useful for policy applications. But that’s hardly a bad thing, right? Even fundamental-level social science research generally presents a relatively straight line to policy application. And so the NSF can keep on approving whatever ivory-tower projects they like.

So yeah I mean obviously this change is massively suboptimal and deserves to be loudly frowned upon. But in terms of actual research projects losing funding? I’d be surprised if there were any at all.

I think that it’s going to matter how the Senate’s decision is actually implemented. Of course, you’ll see social scientists trying to figure out how their work ‘fits’ the new funding objectives. However, if NSF really gets on board and refuses to fund grants that only have ‘token’ statements for how research meets the new funding objectives then the Senate’s decision could hurt some political scientists.

The decision also establishes a kind of worry amongst some academics that the government could continue to aggressively direct academic study: sure, you can study whatever you want, so long as your work doesn’t depend on federal funds. Some of the Senate’s decision was the result of particular Senators being displeased with the academic work that had been funded; their modification to NSF granting effectively acts as a clear warning to other projects up for NSF funding: if ‘bad’ work that the political paymasters won’t approve of is funded then the paymasters will get very directly involved in matters.