Issue 11 (May 26)


Recordings of COVID-19-Related COSSA Headlines Webinars Now Available

In recognition of the severity of the current coronavirus crisis, COSSA has elected to make recordings of its members-only Headlines webinars related to the pandemic available immediately, rather than waiting an additional month to release the recordings to non-members. Check out the Headlines page on the COSSA website for links to previous recordings, including our most recent deep dive discussion with University of Florida epidemiologist Natalie Dean, who called for social scientists to weigh in on critical questions such as how best to facilitate contact tracing and providing insight into factors that could affect the public’s reaction to a potential vaccine. Other Headlines discussions related to COVID-19 focused on communication strategies in an emerging public health crisis and the role of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in coordinating science agencies’ response. COSSA members can sign up for members-only emails to receive information on how to join these webinars live.

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Census Releases First COVID-19 Household Data

The Census Bureau has released the first data from its new COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey, which asks over 50,000 Americans about their employment status, spending patterns, food security, housing, physical and mental health, access to health care, and educational disruption during the coronavirus pandemic (see previous coverage). The data, which covers April 23-May 5, was released as tables and through an interactive dashboard. More information about the survey is available on the Census Bureau website. Data will continue to be released on a weekly basis throughout the survey’s 90-day duration. In addition, the Census Bureau has released data on the pandemic’s impact on small businesses collected by its Small Business Pulse Survey.

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National Academies Holds Webinar on COVID-19 and Extreme Environmental Events

The National Academies Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Board on Environmental Change and Society and Resilient America Roundtable convened a webinar on May 13 to discuss the social science aspects of potential emergencies that compound the current COVID-19 crisis with environmental hazards, such as fires, hurricanes, flooding, and heatwaves. The event featured experts from federal government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as universities, and nonprofit and community organizations. Panelists discussed the challenges of responding to emergencies and natural disasters amidst a pandemic and the need for social science to shed more light on how individuals and communities are likely to respond to such situations. A recording of the event is available on the NASEM website.

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COSSA Submits Testimony in Support of FY 2021 Funding for Health, Education Agencies

Each year, COSSA submits outside witness testimony to the Congressional Appropriations subcommittees responsible for funding federal agencies important to the social sciences. Earlier this month, COSSA submitted testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies calling for robust funding for the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (including the National Center for Health Statistics), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, and the Department of Education’s International Education and Foreign Language programs. All of COSSA’s FY 2021 testimony is posted on the COSSA website.

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John Haaga Answers “Why Social Science?”

why-social-scienceThe latest Why Social Science? post comes from Dr. John Haaga, who retired as Director of the National Institute on Aging’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research in 2019. He writes about the light COVID-19 has shed on the work the U.S. needs to do in order for Americans’ health outcomes to catch up to those in peer countries. Read it here and subscribe.

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Lawmakers Break for Memorial Day Recess with Packed June Agenda in the Wings

When the Senate returns next week, lawmakers will look to move the fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defenses Authorization Act (NDAA), which, like annual appropriations bills, is seen as “must pass” legislation as its sets annual spending levels for the Department of Defense. The NDAA is an especially important piece of legislation to watch this year given that, as one of few annual “must pass” bills, it is viewed as a potential vehicle for other, sometimes unrelated policy proposals (see the article on the Endless Frontiers Act).

Work also continues on the FY 2021 appropriations bills. Despite the pandemic, lawmakers are hoping to introduce and possibly pass some of the bills out of Committee in June. However, with the next COVID-19 emergency package still in the mix, final enactment of FY 2021 appropriations bills appears a ways off. Still, COSSA and other advocates continue to press on Congress to provide the highest possible funding levels for federal science agencies (see related article on FY 2021 testimony). You can follow COSSA’s coverage off FY 2021 funding here.

Also expected in the coming weeks is Senate consideration of Sethuraman Panchanathan to be the next Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Panchanathan, who was nominated by President Trump in December 2019, will be among several nominations before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on June 3.

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New Proposal Would Rename NSF, Create New Technology Directorate

On May 21, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Endless Frontier Act (S. 3832). A counterpart bill (H.R. 6978) was also introduced in the House by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI). The legislation proposes the establishment of a new Technology Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation (NSTF). While housed within NSF/NSTF, a basic science agency, the overarching goal of the legislation is to infuse funding—$100 billion over five years—specifically for research and development in 10 technology areas of global strategic significance. The 10 areas include: (1) artificial intelligence and machine learning (2) high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware (3) quantum computing and information systems (4) robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing (5) natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention (6) advanced communications technology (7) biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology (8) cybersecurity, data storage and data management technologies (9) advanced energy (10) materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to other key technology areas. The 10 areas would be revisited every 4 years.

Such a focus on technology transfer would be a major departure for NSF, which since its founding has focused on supporting fundamental research across all scientific disciplines and fields. The bill’s sponsors contend that the agencies’ other activities would be left untouched by the legislation. Still, considering the bill’s authorization level for these new technology activities is nearly triple the NSF’s current budget, one could surmise that the proposal would mark a major shift in priority for the 70-year-old agency.

While, as noted earlier, this and other legislation could be attached to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill would first need to work its way through the Senate oversight committees as well as those in the House, which has been working to develop its own, yet-to-be-introduced NSF reauthorization legislation.  COSSA will continue to report on this and other NSF authorizing bills in the months ahead.

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NIMH Announces New Strategic Plan, Approves Concept Clearances

During a public meeting on May 19, the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC), the advisory body to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), released a new Strategic Plan for Research for the Institute. The strategic plan outlines NIMH’s research goals and intended priorities for the next five fiscal years, and cites four high-level goals to guide the Institute:

  • Define the Brain Mechanisms Underlying Complex Behaviors
  • Examine Mental Illness Trajectories Across the Lifespan
  • Strive for Prevention and Cures
  • Strengthen the Public Health Impact of NIMH-Supported Research

In addition to the strategic plan announcement, NAMHC heard and approved several concept clearances for potential new research, including some that would incorporate social and behavioral science. Summaries of these concept clearances and a recording of the NAMHC meeting will be available on the NIH website shortly.

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NIH to Host Matilda White Riley Honors Virtually on June 8

On June 8, the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will host the annual Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Sciences Honors in a virtual capacity. The public event will feature a lecture from the 2020 Matilda White Riley Honors awardee, Toni Antonucci, Program Director and Research Professor in the Life Course Development Program at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. It will also recognize the accomplishments of several early stage investigators and their research in the behavioral and social sciences. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of OBSSR and the first year the Matilda White Riley Honors will be hosted virtually.

Registration and more information about the Matilda White Riley Honors is available on the OBSSR website.

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