Issue 21 (October 29)


National Academies Releases Review of Minerva Initiative

The National Academies of Sciences’ Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences released Assessing the Minerva Research Initiative and the Contribution of Social Science to Addressing Security Concerns, a consensus study report assessing the impact, procedures, and direction of the Minerva Research Initiative. The Minerva Research Initiative is a grant program of the Department of Defense (DOD) that funds unclassified, university-based, basic research in the social sciences relevant to national security. The report discusses the program’s challenges and successes and offers recommendations to strengthen the program’s structure and help broaden its reach and usefulness.

The report includes recommendations for both the Minerva Research Initiative and the Department of Defense. It encourages DOD to ensure the Initiative has a leader with stature in a full-time, civil service position, to evaluate whether additional staff are needed, and to reduce the administrative burden on Minerva-funded grantees by streamlining the IRB process. The recommendations for the Initiative include refining its approach to topic selection, creating a strategic outreach plan, creating a centralized and public-facing database of projects, and broadening its engagement with the research community, including reaching out to early career researchers. Additionally, the study recommends the Initiative work to develop relationships with potential supporters of the program, including leadership at DOD, and to create a more robust monitoring and evaluation for grants. The complete report can be downloaded from the National Academies’ website.

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NC State Psychologists Answer “Why Social Science?”

why-social-scienceThe latest Why Social Science? guest post comes from Jeni L. Burnette, & Sarah L. Desmarais psychologists at North Carolina State University, who write about how messaging public health epidemics like addiction and obesity as “diseases” can change how people feel about these conditions and affect whether people seek to get treatment. Read it here and subscribe.

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Senate Science Subcommittee Holds Hearing on “Research and Innovation: Ensuring America’s Economic and Strategic Leadership”

On October 22, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather held a hearing titled “Research and Innovation: Ensuring America’s Economic and Strategic Leadership” to discuss the significance that research and innovation have in ensuring U.S. leadership in the global economy.  The witnesses were Dr. Rebecca Blank, Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Executive Vice President of Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise; Dr. David Shaw, Provost and Executive Vice President of Mississippi State University; and Dr. Diane Souvaine, Chair of the National Science Board.

Subcommittee Chair Cory Gardner (R-CO) stressed the need for bipartisan support to reaffirm the commitment to fund the research economy and keep the United States competitive. Ranking Member Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) argued that the federal government plays a critical role in the research ecosystem and that sustained investment in research has paid enormous dividends, so the United States must continue to make these investments.  She stressed the need for increased National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, to produce a larger science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, to do more to translate research findings into commercial success, and to strengthen research investments.

The hearing largely emphasized the importance of research in the economy of the United States and the lives of its people.  Many of the witnesses emphasized transdisciplinary research, involving all the fields of science.  Members asked questions about expanding access to science and research resources geographically, to minorities and women, and to younger scientists, as well as about the possible economic benefits of scientific expansion and what types of research investment is needed.

A recording of the hearing is available on the Commerce Committee website.

This article was contributed by COSSA’s fall intern, Kira Nash, of Boston University.

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Senate Continues to Debate Spending Bills as CR End Looms

The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR), a stopgap measure that has frozen funding for federal agencies at FY 2019 levels, which is set to expire on November 21. While the House had passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills through the chamber before the summer recess, the Senate is beginning to make progress as well. It too has passed 10 of the 12 bills out of committee and is currently debating a package of four bills on the Senate floor. While the Senate is certainly making up for lost time, there have been reports that Congressional leaders are considering passing an additional CR that would last until the spring of 2020. Nonetheless, COSSA and its partners continue to advocate for strong numbers for federal science programs in any final spending agreement. See COSSA’s analysis of the FY 2020 spending proposals here, and the coalition letters COSSA has joined here.

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White House Reconstitutes President’s Council of Advisory on Science and Technology

On October 22, the Trump Administration issued an executive order reconstituting the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). PCAST is comprised of experts from science and technology from outside the government who volunteer to advise the White House; it has not met since the Obama Administration. In addition to reconstituting the council, the President also appointed seven members to PCAST. The members primarily have backgrounds in the private sector: Dario Gill of IBM research, A.N. Sreeram of Dow Chemical, Sharon Hrynkow of Cyclo Therapeutics, H. Fisk Johnson of S.C. Johnson Inc., Catherine Bessant of Bank of America, and Shane Wall of HP. The lone appointee from a university is K. Birgitta Whaley, a chemistry professor of the University of California, Berkeley, and a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A press release from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), reported on by Science Magazine, noted that the “next wave of nominees, which includes several additional scholars from academia, is proceeding through the clearance process.” The executive order and list of appointees can be found on the White House website.

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OSTP Committee Releases Roadmap on Stemming the Opioid Crisis

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) Fast Track Action Committee on Health Science and Technology Response to the Opioid Crisis (Opioid FTAC), established in late 2017, has released a roadmap for health research and development to support the Administration’s opioid response. A draft of the report was released for public comment in late 2018. The final report, “Health Research & Development to Stem the Opioid Crisis: A National Roadmap,” identifies knowledge gaps as well as opportunities to improve coordination to better address the opioid epidemic. It covers seven major areas of research, including several with particular relevance to the social and behavioral sciences such as “non-biological contributors to opioid addiction,” “prevention of opioid addiction,” and “community consequences of opioid addiction.” The full report is available on the White House website.

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National Academy of Medicine Launches Healthy Longevity Global Competition

The National Academy of Medicine, with collaboration from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health and several other global research organizations, has launched the Healthy Longevity Global Competition. This international competition seeks for researchers in the social sciences and other fields to submit research ideas aiming to extend the healthy human lifespan. The other participating global organizations are the Academia Sinica of Taiwan, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, EIT Health, the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, the Ministry of Health and National Research Foundation of Singapore, and UK Research and Innovation.

The competition will consist of three award phases:

  • Catalyst Phase: Up to 500 awards worth $50,000 each will be issued as seed funding for innovative research ideas.
  • Accelerator Phase: Select awardees from the Catalyst Phase who have demonstrated significant progress and innovation will be chosen to receive awards worth $500,000 or more.
  • Grand Prize: One or more prizes of up to $5 million will be awarded to breakthrough achievements in the extension of the healthy human lifespan.

Applications for the Catalyst Phase open in January 2020. More information about the competition can be found on the Healthy Longevity Global Competition website.

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Nominations Solicited for 2020 Golden Goose Awards

Nominations are now open for the 2020 Golden Goose Awards. The Golden Goose Awards honor federally funded research that may sound odd, obscure, or serendipitous, but ends up having a major impact on society.  Many social and behavioral scientists have been award recipients and honored at the annual ceremony and reception in Washington, DC. Nominators of selected awardees will also receive travel support to attend the September 2020 Awards luncheon and award ceremony.

Nominations are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year, but for the best chance for consideration, nominations are encouraged to be submitted by December 20, 2019. More information and the nomination form can be found on the Golden Goose website.

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SSRC Launches MediaWell Platform on Disinformation Research

On October 22, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), a COSSA member, hosted a launch event for MediaWell, an initiative intended to track and aggregate research on mis- and disinformation in the media. The event consisted of an introduction to the mission and function of MediaWell and a panel discussion on current trends of disinformation in the media. Panelists included Editor-in-Chief at The Markup Julia Angwin, Director of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund Karen Kornbluh, Director of Journalism Research at the Pew Research Center Amy Mitchell, and Professor of Government at Dartmouth College Brendan Nyhan.

The MediaWell platform consolidates scholarship originating from several different publications and fields of study, organizes them by topic, and provides expert translations on the findings to be accessible for a broader audience. More information about MediaWell can be found the MediaWell website.

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