International Debate

“Are social and behavioral sciences worth supporting?”

June 19, 2011 784

Stephen McKeever, vice president for research and technology transfer at Oklahoma State University, writes that the National Science Foundation’s Social, Behavioral and Economics directorate should be retained.

A recent review of the National Science Foundation asks that science funding be limited to “truly transformative sciences with practical uses … and clear benefits to mankind and the world. The review calls for the elimination of the NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economics (SBE) Directorate, stating that “the social sciences should not be the focus of our premier basic scientific research agency.” While much of the criticism leveled at NSF may be justified, to eliminate the SBE Directorate in toto is to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Making science “transformative” and “with practical uses” to benefit mankind is exactly what the SBE sciences do. For many of the important problems facing us today the SBE sciences are the most important of all the sciences. Traditional science (i.e. science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM) can take us so far, but to arrive at ultimate and stable solutions that improve the human condition in a sustainable fashion requires the SBE sciences to show us how, if only we would listen…

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