When conversations turn to the subject of ‘science,’ the underlying assumption is that we’re talking about physical, natural, medical and technological science – and not social or behavioral science. This omission is often just shorthand, such as when legislators extol STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pursuits when praising the National Science Foundation, although sometimes it’s more malign, such as when some of those same legislators try and strip funding from the social, behavioral and economic sciences from that same NSF budget.
The exiting chair of the House of Representatives’ Science Committee, for example, routinely argues that spending on social science research wastes taxpayer money and doesn’t support the national interest. “When NSF funds projects that don’t meet such standards,” Texas Republican Lamar Smith said last year in promoting on his his perennial ‘national interest’ bills, “there is less money to support scientific research that keeps our country at the forefront of innovation.”
Even friends of the social and behavioral sciences — like Barack Obama, who as U.S.president fired up a ‘nudge unit’ to harness social science for the national good – sometimes let the side down. In honoring young scientists at the White House Science Fair, the event specifically focused on promoting science, technology, engineering and medical research.
And the overlooking of social science isn’t just an American malady. The Bank of England is redesigning its £50 note, and, it says, “We want it to feature someone who’s contributed to science.”
Sounds good, and some of those already honored on England’s money in recent years include Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin and James Watt (who with his inventing partner Matthew Boulton are making way for the new scientist). But the bank explicitly excludes certain disciplines for its contributors: “You can suggest anyone who has contributed to the fields of pure or applied science. That could include: astronomy,biology, bio-technology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, medical research,physics, technology and zoology.” So from A to Z, but apparently without stops at G (geography), P (political science), S (sociology) or E (economics).
Given that, the Campaign for Social Science, the Economic Social and Research Council, Sense about Science, and yes SAGE, parent of Social Science Space, lobbied for a social scientist to be included in the running. But that effort was more a rearguard action, since the tone for the nominations had already been set in the public imagination.
You can join those kind souls in the promoting social and behavioral scholarship and it benefits and impacts. Right now, the Golden Goose Awards are accepting nominations focused on researchers whose National Science Foundation-funded work, while sounding silly, odd or obscure when the grants were made, turned out to have major benefits. Past honorees have represented many corners of the scientific endeavor, including social scientists like:
- Joel E. Cohen, a mathematical population biologist, and Christopher Small, a geophysicist, whose examination of “hypsographic demography”—the study of how human populations are distributed with respect to altitude – has improved packaging, manufacturing, tumor research and disaster preparedness.
- Mahzarin Banaji, Anthony Greenwald and Brian Nosek, whose initial work on remembering famous names led to the creation and dissemination of the acclaimed Implicit Association Test.
- Walter Mischel, Philip Peake and Yuichi Shoda, whose work into impulse control – remember the famous ‘Marshmallow experiment? – has revolutionized behavioral studies.
Intuitively, it seems like social scientists might have an edge in the competition, since, well, people themselves are often sillier than electrons or tectonic plates, so don’t be shy. To nominate someone, follow this link, or visit the website goldengooseaward.org and click on “nominate” in the top right corner.
The process after that is easy. Identify who you are nominating, what unexpected impact the research has had, and which U.S.federal agency funded the work. While you can always nominate someone, the deadline to be considered for a Golden Goose in 2019 closes on January 21.
And remember our conversation about the poor reception social science sometimes gets on Capitol Hill. The organization behind the award is resolutely nonpartisan, as Elise Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman from New York and member of the group, takes pains to point out. “We must,” she said, “continue to invest in curiosity-driven scientific research in order to remain the global leader in innovation.”