NSF Changing How It Positions Many Social Science Programs

The National Science Foundation, the largest government funder of basic social and behavioral research in the United States, is changing how it “positions” some of its research programs in those fields. Arthur “Skip” Lupia, who heads the Social, Behavioral and Economic Directorate at NSF, officially announced the changes in the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences and the Social and Economic Sciences divisions in a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter released earlier this week. The changes to those two of the directorate’s four divisions are to take effect on October 1.

Arthur Lupia
Arthur Lupia

Lupia talked about emphasizing the public value of social science during a webinar by the Consortium of Social Science Associations two weeks ago. “One way we do that is by making sure it’s conveyed more effectively, make sure that the users understand more about it. The other is to position our programs – our touchpoints with the research community and the public – so people can say, ‘Yeah, that’s the thing I really need.’”

While Lupia portrayed the changes as common practice and useful in aligning the directorate’s work with wider national interests, some of the communities in the affected disciplines are concerned or outright opposed to repositioning.

For example, after NSF told the American Political Science Association about the changes in the political science portfolio in August, the association decided it did not support the changes. Specifically, the NSF is splitting the existing political science program in two, creating Security and Preparedness and Accountable Institutions and Behavior programs, neither of which use the term ‘political science.’According to the APSA, the NSF assured them that the programs would be headed by political scientists, would still cover the areas studied by political scientists, and that the rebranding might allow for more funding for these areas.

Political science has been a flashpoint in the partisan fight for social science funding in the U.S. In 2012, former Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake even sought to axe all spending on political science research. APSA argues that the new nomenclature, presumably more palatable to conservative lawmakers, “may be misinterpreted as indicating a diminished commitment to political science research.”

That’s a chance others are willing to hazard. “By splitting the program in two and avoiding the name “political science,” the NSF is removing an easy target for [members of Congress,” political scientist Rick Wilson writes on his blog. “… I am breathing a sigh of relief that Political Science has been taken out of the cross hairs of continual Congressional efforts to be defunded. I see this as a positive step forward for the discipline and for social science as a whole.”

The Dear Colleague letter gives three reasons for the repositioning: to respond to new and emerging areas; to help the directorate connect research to “pressing national priorities;” and to make the value of basic research “more apparent to a wider set of stakeholders.”

The NSF notes that the changes do not affect current solicitations and submission deadlines.

The Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate is making Lupia available to discuss the changes in a series of webinars and virtual office hours.

Monday, September 30, 4 -5 p.m. EDT
SBE Repositioning Webinar

Wednesday, October 9, 3-4 p.m. EDT
SBE Repositioning Webinar

Tuesday, October 15, 2-3 p.m. EDT
Virtual Office Hours

Wednesday, October 25, 2-3:00 p.m. EDT
Virtual Office Hours

Wednesday, October 25, 4-5 p.m. EDT
Virtual Office Hours

The changes
Repositioned programs in the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) Division are:

  • Human Networks and Data Science: An evolution of the former Resource Implementations for Data Intensive Research in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences competition, this program supports the use of large and multifaceted data to examine an expansive and fast-evolving set of complex human networks and systems.
  • Linguistics: The change continues a partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Documenting Endangered Languages program and integrates program management into NSF’s diverse Linguistics Program. It renames NSF’s contribution to this partnership. Dynamic Language Infrastructure to more accurately capture the fundamental science that NSF funds in this important area of study.
  • Science of Learning and Augmented Intelligence: This program builds on the successes of the former Science of Learning Program. It now incorporates basic research about how alterations to human contexts and relationships can bolster human intelligence, performance, and productivity.

Repositioned programs in the Social and Economic Sciences Division are:

  • Security and Preparedness and Accountable Institutions and Behavior: These two programs build from transformative basic research done by political scientists and other researchers.
    • Security and Preparedness supports scientific research that advances knowledge and understanding of issues broadly related to global and national security.
    • Accountable Institutions and Behavior supports scientific research that advances knowledge and understanding of issues broadly related to attitudes, behavior, and institutions connected to decision making processes, the provision of essential services, and accountability mechanisms in a range of public sector contexts.
    • The two programs coordinate to ensure that basic research in these areas effectively serves a broad range of critical national interests.
  • Law and Science: This program is an expansion of the former Law and Social Science Program to support basic social science research on relationships between law and all areas of science, including interactions with biological, computer and information sciences, STEM education, engineering, geosciences, and mathematical and physical sciences.
  • Science of Science: Discovery, Communication, and Impact: This evolution of the former Science of Science and Innovation Policy Program focuses on basic research that can increase the productivity of scientific workflows, our nation’s capacity to communicate it accurately and effectively, and the value of that work to society.
  • Ethical and Responsible Research: This evolution of the former Cultivating Cultures for Ethical STEM Program supports research on how to help scientists do work that is more replicable, reproducible, and ethical.
  • Science and Technology Studies: This evolution of the former Science, Technology, and Society Program aligns with progress in this research community and seeks new ways to support research on how to better understand and improve science’s societal impacts.

– Taken from the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter

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