Arthur “Skip” Lupia, the Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, will head the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences starting in September, the NSF announced Monday.
Lupia has more than 25 years of leadership and management experience in the political science and the larger social sciences community. In addition to his professorship at Michigan, which he has held since 2006, he serves concurrently as chairman of the board for the Center for Open Science and as the chair of the National Academies Roundtable on the Communication and Use of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
At NSF, Lupia will replace Fay Lomax Cook as assistant director. Assistant directors are appointed for two-year terms initially, with a possibility of an extension; Cook’s third year ends on August 31. A public policy professor at Northwester University before her appointment to NSF, she plans to take a one-year sabbatical to write and travel in Europe and Asia before returning to Northwestern as an emeritus professor, according to NSF.
The SBE directorate supports fundamental research in behavioral, cognitive, social and economic sciences and is the smallest of the six research directorates at the foundation; its proposed budget of $246 million (before requested research infrastructure add-ons) comes to 4 percent of the NSF’s research budget. Despite that, the directorate looms large in the social and behavioral science community; it provides about 68 percent of federal funding for social, behavioral and economic sciences basic research at U.S. academic institutions. That 55 of the economists (more than 67 percent) who have received the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel have been supported by the NSF at some point in their careers demonstrates it impact.
“NSF’s social, behavioral, and economic sciences programs support work that makes people safer and improves their quality of life,” a release from the NSF quoted Lupia. “I look forward to contributing to an agency that fills a critical national need by funding basic social science research. From detecting reading problems before they become evident to enhancing eyewitness procedures to ensure a greater degree of accuracy in the justice system, SBE impacts every aspect of society.”
Nonetheless, social science research funding remains a political football, with many Republican legislators, including the head of the House Science Committee, repeatedly attempting to reduce SBE’s budget while dismissing the value of social science itself. Amidst this background, Lupia’s work on explaining science to the public and civic education will likely loom large, as NSF Director France Córdova noted in announcing his appointment” “Dr. Lupia’s outstanding ability as a communicator will be instrumental to making the value of the social sciences widely understood.” In addition to heading the National Academies’ panel, Lupia served on the Board of Directors of the Consortium of Social Science Associations and earlier this year was on a panel discussion on “Reestablishing Trust in Social Science and Data” during COSSA’s 2018 Science Policy Conference.
Lupia’s own research draws from mathematics, statistics, and the neurosciences to clarify how people can make better decisions in a range of adverse circumstances. He’s written or co-written six books and more than 90 scholarly articles. His honors include a Carnegie fellowship, Guggenheim fellowship, the National Academy of Science’s Award for Initiatives in Research. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Rochester and master’s and doctoral degrees in social science from the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech).