Issue 16 (August 3)


NSF Seeks Candidates for SBE Leadership Positions

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated a national search for its next Assistant Director for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. Dr. Arthur Lupia has served in this position since 2018. The Assistant Director for SBE oversees the directorate, which includes the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, the Division of Social and Economic Sciences, the SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities, and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

The search committee will be led by Robert Groves, Executive Vice President and Provost at Georgetown University, and is seeking candidates with outstanding leadership capabilities; a deep sense of scholarship; a grasp of the issues facing the social, behavioral, and economic science communities, especially in the areas of education, innovation, and fundamental research. Details and contact information for the search committee can be found here. Nominations will be accepted through September 13, 2021.

In addition, two of SBE’s divisions are accepting applications for Division Director roles. NSF is seeking candidates for the Director of the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) within SBE. The BCS Director is responsible for providing leadership and direction to the Division and implementing overall strategic planning. The BCS Division provides funding for research that helps advance scientific knowledge about the brain, human cognition, language, social behavior, and culture. Applications must be submitted by August 19. The position requirements can be found on USAJobs. In addition, as previously reported, the position of Director of the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES) within SBE is also accepting applications through August 6.

“Why Social Science” Can Help Plan for Returning to In-Person Work

why-social-scienceThe latest Why Social Science? post comes from Sunita Sah, of the University of Cambridge, who writes about how understanding anxiety and decision-making can help organizations plan for returning to the office while minimizing their employees’ anxiety. Read it here and subscribe.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: NSF Creates New Education and Human Resources Directorate (June 1, 1990)

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.

Throughout his tenure as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Erich Bloch has touted “education and human resources” as a major justification for increasing NSF funding. Now, with two months to go in office, Bloch has decided to reorganize the foundation’s science and engineering education efforts by creating a new Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR). The new directorate will be headed by current NSF Senior Science Advisor Luther Williams.

The old Science and Engineering Education Directorate (SEE) and its assistant director, Bassam Shakashiri, are gone. Shakashiri will join the NSF Director’s office.

The new EHR will include all the programs of the SEE Directorate as well as the NSF programs to promote science and engineering opportunities for women and minorities and persons with disabilities, which are currently housed in the Scientific, Technological, and International Affairs Directorate (STIA). It will also have responsibility for coordinating undergraduate education efforts managed currently by the disciplinary research programs.

Pushed by Congress for years to consolidate and better coordinate NSFs endeavors in science education, Bloch is also responding to some of the recommendations made in an Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) report, “Science Education: From Grade School to Grad School.” The OTA report is often cited by NSF Senate appropriations chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).

The National Science Board approved the reorganization at its May meeting. The House Science, Research and Technology Subcommittee will use an already scheduled hearing on June 7th to examine these changes in detail.

Read more from this issue.

House Passes Funding Bills for Labor-HHS-Education, Agriculture

On July 29, the House of Representatives passed a six-bill package of spending legislation for the next fiscal year (FY), FY 2022. The package (H.R. 4502) included both the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education and Agriculture appropriations bills (see COSSA’s analysis). As it breaks for August recess, the House has passed nine of its 13 annual spending bills. Among the bills left to pass are the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill (which funds the National Science Foundation) and the Department of Defense appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, has started marking up its bills this week. However, they are not expected to get to the bills of most interest to the research community before leaving for August recess next week. COSSA will continue to report on developments in the FY 2022 appropriations process as they occur.

New House Social Determinants of Health Caucus Seeks Stakeholder Input

A newly formed Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus is seeking the public’s input on challenges and opportunities related to social determinants of health. The bipartisan caucus, which held a launch event on July 21, is co-chaired by Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Tom Cole (R-OK), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK). The caucus “will explore opportunities to improve the impact of services delivered to address social determinants with the support of federal funding” and “work to amplify evidence-based approaches to holistic well-being.” The request for information asks stakeholders to respond to a list of questions relating to how to improve federal programs to better address the social determinants of health and areas where Congressional action is necessary. Responses are being accepted through September 21.

NIH Releases 2021-2025 Strategic Plan

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released its agency-wide Strategic Plan for fiscal years (FY) 2021-2025,  a roadmap outlining key objectives and themes for the agency for the next five years. The plan organizes its strategy into three major objectives for the agency:

  • Advancing Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences;
  • Developing, Maintaining, and Renewing Scientific Research Capacity; and
  • Exemplifying and Promoting the Highest Level of Scientific Integrity, Public Accountability, and Social Responsibility in the Conduct of Science.

The Strategic Plan also outlines five cross-cutting themes that run through each of the three major objectives and all aspects of the agency’s strategy:

  • Improving Minority Health and Reducing Health Disparities
  • Enhancing Women’s Health
  • Addressing Public Health Challenges Across the Lifespan
  • Promoting Collaborative Science
  • Leveraging Data Science for Biomedical Discovery

Notably, the role of the social and behavioral sciences in NIH biomedical research are highlighted throughout the Strategic Plan, with the report noting “for the purposes of this Strategic Plan, the term biomedical is used broadly to include biological, behavioral, and social scientific perspectives.” Other topics in which the social and behavioral sciences are highlighted include the social determinants of health, maternal health, minority health and health disparities, and strengthening the research workforce. More information about the Strategic Plan is available on the NIH website.

Biden Nominates ARS Administrator to lead USDA Research

The Biden Administration has announced the nomination of Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young to serve as the Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE). The REE Under Secretary oversees the Department’s science and research activities, including the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Economic Research Service (ERS), and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Dr. Jacobs-Young is currently the Administrator of another REE agency, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and has also been serving as Acting REE Under Secretary. A Senate confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.

EHR Director to Take on NSF COO Role

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named Dr. Karen Marrongelle as its next Chief Operating Office (COO) effective August 2, succeeding F. Fleming Crim, who has served in this role since 2018. Dr. Marrongelle has served as the Assistant Director for the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate since 2018. In a statement accompanying the announcement, NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said, “Karen Marrongelle is a strong and innovative leader with a proven track record of excellence and accomplishments.  I am delighted to have her taking on this important role at an amazing time for NSF.”

AAPOR Releases Report Evaluating 2020 Election Polling

The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) has released a report analyzing the pre-election polls from the 2020 elections titled “Task Force on 2020 Pre-Election Polling: An Evaluation of the 2020 General Election Polls.” The task force consisted of 19 members chosen to ensure diversity of backgrounds and opinions from various organizations, media outlets, and academic institutions. One of the main points covered in the report relates to polling errors that may have stemmed from issues of noncoverage, nonresponse, or statistical adjustments. The report notes that small errors can add up and have large effects on the predictions of winners. The task force found that in nearly every contest, there was an overstatement of the Democratic-Republican margin in favor of the Democratic candidate.

The AAPOR task force was unable to conclude why the 2020 polling error was so large and widespread; however, they were able to draw a few conclusions from their investigation. According to the report, these errors were not primarily caused by late-deciding voters, failure to weigh by education, incorrect assumptions about the composition of the electorate, reluctance to express support for Trump, incorrect estimates on voter turnout, or too few early voters or Election Day voters. The report states, “it seems plausible that many issues were caused by nonresponse. Nevertheless, it is so far impossible to know the primary issue. Among the possibilities are: too many Democrats and too few Republicans responding to the polls (between-party nonresponse); the Democrats/Republicans who responded had different opinions than those who did not (within-party nonresponse); and new voters and independents unpredictable in terms of both size (too many or too few) and representativeness (i.e., were the new voters who responded similar to those who did not?).”

While the report notes that similar issues with polling errors could occur in future elections, the 2020 election was unique due to its occurrence during a global pandemic and the significant increase in voter turnout. Ultimately, the report concludes it is not possible to predict what will happen in the polls for the next few years but that informing people on the limitations of pre-election polling can aid in decreasing distrust in the polling system from Americans.

The full report and more information can be found on the AAPOR website.

This article was contributed by COSSA’s summer intern, Lillian Chmielewska of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


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