Issue 09 (April 22)


Advocates Working to Promote Social Science Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Today, about 40 social and behavioral scientists and other stakeholders are participating in COSSA’s 6th Annual Social Science Advocacy Day, meeting virtually with Members of Congress and their staff about the many ways social and behavioral science is helping to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow our advocates’ efforts on Twitter by following @COSSADC and using the hashtag #whysocialsciencev.

Others can get in on the action by responding to COSSA’s newest action alert. Visit COSSA’s Take Action page to tell Congress that the social sciences stand ready and willing to help the United States recover from this crisis.

In addition, COSSA has produced two new resources to help you explain the unique contributions the social and behavioral sciences make to fighting COVID-19. Visit COSSA’s COVID-19 Resources page to find a fact sheet on the many ways social science research has already contributed to the crisis, as well as a resource guide for policymakers, which is a collection of trusted sources for real-time information and data on what the latest social science is saying about various aspect of the pandemic.

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Senate Returns Next Week with Uncertain Agenda; House Staying Home

While the Senate is planning to return to in-person work in Washington, DC on May 4, the House abruptly changed course and, upon recommendation from the House physician, will not be reconvening next week. No timeline has been set for the House’s return.

While working mostly remotely, the House and Senate passed its fourth supplemental appropriations bill on April 24 related to the crisis. The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266) provides additional funding for small business loans, additional support for health care providers, and funding for additional COVID-19 testing. There is much speculation surrounding the contents of potential future relief measures. The science and engineering community continues to press for support for research institutions, federal agencies, and infrastructure, which have all suffered over the last several months. Follow COSSA’s COVID-19 coverage for the latest on our efforts to promote the interests of the social and behavioral science research community.

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Census Launches COVID-19 Household Survey

The Census Bureau has applied for and received emergency authorization from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to conduct a new household survey to collect information about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on American families. The COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey will ask individuals about their employment status, spending patterns, food security, housing, physical and mental health, access to health care, and educational disruption during the coronavirus pandemic. The survey was developed with input from agencies across the federal statistical system, including the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Data collection began on April 23 and will continue for 90 days. The Census Bureau plans to begin releasing data weekly (after an initial two-week processing period) in order to provide the most value to policymakers as they develop and implement response and recovery strategies. More information on the survey is available on the Census Bureau website.

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Demographer Allison Plyer Answers “Why Social Science?”

why-social-scienceThe latest Why Social Science? post comes from Dr. Allison Plyer, Chief Demographer of The Data Center, an independent research institution based in New Orleans, who writes about how the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on minority communities is exacerbated by institutional racism. Read it here and subscribe.

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White House Announces Appointments for PCAST and NSB

On April 20, the White House announced the appointment of several individuals for key positions in the Administration including two seats on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and four seats on the National Science Board (NSB), the advisory body to the National Science Foundation (NSF). This wave of nominations for PCAST follows an announcement from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director and PCAST Chair Kelvin Droegemeier that several future PCAST nominees would come from academia rather than industry (read previous COSSA coverage for more details). The two nominees for PCAST are:

  • Abraham “Avi” Loeb, Professor and Chair of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University
  • Daniela Rus, Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The four nominees for the NSB are:

  • Aaron Dominguez, Provost and Professor of Physics at the Catholic University of America
  • Dario Gil, Chief of Research at IBM
  • Sudarsanam Babu, Professor and Chair of Advanced Manufacturing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Roger Beachy, President of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Roger Beachy currently serves on the NSB and has been reappointed for a second term while the three other appointees would be new members of the advisory body. Since there are eight members with expiring terms on the NSB this year, four more appointments have yet to be announced.

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Data Strategy Releases Update on Implementation

The Federal Data Strategy has released an update for the first quarter of 2020 on the implementation of its 2020 Action Plan (see previous coverage). The update includes a list of the early milestones the strategy has met so far, such as the establishment of a Federal Chief Data Officers Council and Federal Data Policy Committee, as well as those that are in progress. More information is available on the Data Strategy website.

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NSF Announces Fairness in Artificial Intelligence Collaboration with Amazon

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking research proposals for the NSF Program on Fairness in Artificial Intelligence in Collaboration with Amazon, a program seeking to support research on how to ensure fairness in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The program is partially funded by Amazon, although the company will not have a role in the award selection process. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of artificial intelligence research, many fields of the social and behavioral sciences may be supported by this program including information science, statistics, cognitive science, and psychology. Some of the research topics that may be supported include:

  • Designing fair artificial intelligence systems,
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability in artificial intelligence systems,
  • Understanding factors that affect the integrity of algorithms,
  • Developing ethical decision-making systems, and
  • Detecting biases in algorithms and artificial intelligence systems.

Proposals will be accepted through July 13, 2020. More information can be found on the NSF website.

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