Issue 02 (January 19)
Biden Administration Announces Science Team; Alondra Nelson Tapped for New “Science and Society” Role
On January 15, President-Elect Biden announced key members of his administration’s science and technology team. Dr. Eric Lander, a life scientist and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, will be nominated to direct the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and to serve as the President’s Science Advisor. This role will also be elevated to Cabinet level for the first time.
Dr. Alondra Nelson, a prominent social scientist and President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), a COSSA member, will be appointed to a new senior OSTP role: Deputy Director for Science and Society. Although details about the scope of this role are not yet available, it is expected that the new position will be broader and more senior than the role of Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, a position last filled during the Obama Administration.
Other notable members of the science team include Drs. Frances H. Arnold and Maria Zuber, external co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST); Kei Koizumi, OSTP Chief of Staff; and Narda Jones, OSTP Legislative Affairs Director. In addition, the transition team announced that Dr. Francis Collins will stay on as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). More details are available on the transition team website.
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced his departure, effective January 20, eleven months before the end of his term. The announcement comes after whistleblower complaints came to light that Dillingham and senior political appointees were pressuring Census Bureau employees to rush the publication of a potentially “statistically indefensible” data report on noncitizens. Dillingham’s public announcement of his resignation included a response to questions posed by the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s Office regarding the noncitizens report. Dillingham’s announcement also notes that he has respect for President-elect Biden and had prepared, after requests from the Biden transition team, to stay on after the Presidential transition, but “I must do now what I think is best.” Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin will again serve as acting director of the Bureau, a position he held for over a year prior to Dillingham’s nomination.
COSSA’s 2021 Social Science Advocacy Day, the only annual, coordinated advocacy day in support of all of the social and behavioral sciences, will take place on April 27, 2021. Social Science Advocacy Day brings together social scientists and other science advocates from across the country to engage with policymakers. Last year, Advocacy Day went virtual, and COSSA will build on that experience in 2021 to give participants the ability to safely engage with their elected officials from home.
Participants will be teamed up with social scientists from their home state to participate in a day of virtual meetings with House and Senate offices to share with them why federal support for social and behavioral science research is so important. COSSA will provide multiple live and on-demand training opportunities and logistical support (including scheduling meetings with Congressional offices and providing an on-call expert to answer your day-of policy questions), as well as polished, up-to-date materials to help. Each team will also have the option of partnering with an experienced government relations professional to guide them through their meetings with Members of Congress and staff. Registration will open soon. Watch for more details in the COSSA Washington Update and on the Advocacy Day webpage.
During the January 14 COSSA Headlines webinar, Drs. Christine Hunter and Wen-Ying Sylvia Chou, two of the co-authors of the recent National Institutes of Health report on COVID-19 Vaccination Communication , shared an overview of the report. They also provided a summary of the report’s recommendations that communities can utilize to ensure that messaging about the entire COVID-19 vaccination process relies on evidence-backed strategies. These are available as a one-page tip sheet. A recording of the webinar and the slides are posted to the COSSA website.
In celebration of COSSA’s 40th anniversary, we are diving into the decades of Washington Update archives to share articles from years past that resonate with today’s news.
The attention to the choice of the new Census Director concerns the decision of which numbers the Bureau will release. The national-level data, which determines each state’s representation in Congress (apportionment), were made public at the end of December. However, the block-level data are scheduled to be available in March; these will include the raw “head count” figures. The controversy surrounds whether the Bureau will also release statistically-adjusted figures; this is currently unclear.
Statistical adjustment, or sampling, is used to correct for the two types of coverage error that usually results from the traditional Census methodology: failure to count individuals and mistakenly including individuals or counting them twice. The degree of error is determined through the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation (ACE), which is conducted independently of other Census activities and is open to scientific peer review. Most statisticians regard the adjusted figures as more accurate[…]
Bush’s spokesman, when asked about Bush’s intentions, has, of late, consistently responded that he supports an “actual head count,” which appears to be a softer way of conveying opposition to sampling. According to Roll Call, Bush aides said one of his first acts as president “would be to block the Bureau’s release of census findings that are reached through sampling.” […]
Adding further ammunition to their cause, the Census Monitoring Board members who were appointed by President Clinton recently released a number of studies that reveal the expected consequences of failing to correct an undercount. One recent study, for example, shows that more than 20 percent of infants were missed in the 1990 Census, and warns that similar results are possible in Census 2000. Without statistical adjustment, the report cautions, health and education programs that serve the nation’s children could be underfunded. The Census Monitoring Board is a bipartisan board that monitors the Census Bureau’s conduct of the 2000 Census[…]
With political representation and federal funds at stake, the battle is likely to escalate soon. Although the deadline for release of the final census figures is April 1, the data could be released as early as March; action on the decision to adjust could come sooner.
The National Science Foundation has released a solicitation related to its Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) Big Idea. The solicitation invites proposals for multidisciplinary research investigating the evolving technological, human and societal aspects of work. Researchers from the social, behavioral and economic sciences are asked to collaborate with researchers in computer science, engineering and learning sciences to investigate the potential impacts of technological innovations and disruptions. More information is available in the full solicitation. Proposals are due on March 23, 2021.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new website for COVID-19 research information, according to a January 19 blog post by NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Mike Lauer. According to Lauer, the website includes key information about the agency’s vaccine and diagnostics programs for COVID-19 as well as searchable information on funded research categorized by state, institution, Congressional district, and other notable fields. The website also includes the latest public-facing information on COVID-19 vaccines and testing, information about participating in clinical trials, and other Federal agency resources on COVID-19. The website is available here.
The American Psychological Association (APA), a COSSA governing member, has announced the selection of Mitchell Prinstein as its new Chief Science Officer. Prinstein, who is slated to transition into the role starting March 1, is the John Van Seters distinguished professor of psychology and neuroscience and assistant dean of Honors Carolina at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, another COSSA member. More information is available in the full press release on the APA website.
On January 6, 2021, the American Statistical Association (ASA) announced the debut episode of a new monthly podcast, Practical Significance. The podcast, hosted by Ron Wasserstein, ASA’s Executive Director, and Donna LaLonde, ASA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and Outreach, will highlight compelling stories from data science and statistics from within ASA’s membership and promote careers in these disciplines.
The debut episode features Rob Santos, ASA’s President, discussing his previous work at the Urban Institute, and outlining his goals for his tenure leading the association. The podcast can be listened to on the ASA website. The podcast has also been submitted to podcasting platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music pending an approval process.