Issue 6 (March 29)
On March 28, the Biden Administration began releasing details of its fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request to Congress. At the time of this writing, details for all federal agencies and departments important to the social science research community have not yet been published; however, topline budget levels are available:
The budget request proposes increases for much of the federal research enterprise with some exceptions; however, the devil is in the details. For example, more than half of the proposed increase for the National Institutes of Health would go toward the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) which was just established through the FY 2022 final appropriations bill, and some NIH institutes and centers would see increases while others would be cut. The National Science Foundation, on the other hand, would see sizeable increases across the board in addition to funding for its new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate.
COSSA is busily analyzing the FY 2023 budget request and will be publishing an in-depth report in the coming days. In the meantime, details can be found on the White House Office of Management and Budget website.
While the Administration was nearly two months late in delivering the budget to Congress, the House and Senate have hit the ground running on the FY 2023 appropriations process, with several hearings scheduled for later this week in which Administration officials will defend the proposals for next year. COSSA will keep you posted on all the news related to FY 2023 funding for social and behavioral science research.
Today, COSSA is holding its 2022 Social Science Advocacy Day, a members-only annual event bringing together social and behavioral scientists from across the country to meet with Members of Congress and their staff to advocate for increased funding for federal agencies and programs important the research community. This year, 70 individuals from COSSA member organizations will participate virtually in about 90 meetings with policymakers and their staff in the House of Representatives and Senate. You can get in on the action by responding to COSSA’s Action Alert and sending a quick note to your elected officials to voice your support for federal science agencies that advance the social and behavioral sciences.
Follow along with this year’s advocates on Twitter using the hashtags #COSSA2022 and #WhySocialScience.
On March 23, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing to discuss the national mental health and substance use disorder crisis and the federal programs being used to address these issues. The hearing, overseen by Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), is one of many Congressional hearings held in the past few months focused on potential policy solutions related to mental health (see previous coverage for more details). The witnesses present at the hearing were Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Dr. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Carole Johnson, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dr. Joshua A. Gordon, and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) within NIH Dr. Nora D. Volkow.
Committee Chair Murray focused her opening statement on the increasing suicide and drug overdose rates and the worrying rise in mental health crises across the country. Additionally, she acknowledged the extreme lack of mental health professionals in the U.S. and how to best address these issues through federal legislation. Ranking Member Burr focused his opening statement on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in exacerbating the mental health and substance use disorder crises that the U.S. is currently experiencing. The witness opening statements focused on what their respective federal agencies are doing to address these issues and ways in which the Committee can continue to support their missions. Many of the Committee members’ questions for the witnesses revolved around how to best support healthcare professionals and marginalized groups such as youths, veterans, communities of color, and rural communities. Additionally, the value of funding provided by the American Rescue Plan in supporting mental health and substance use treatment across the country was mentioned several times throughout the hearing. Chairwoman Murray stated that the Committee is working on a bipartisan package that would support substance use and mental health crises efforts across the country that will hopefully be released early Summer 2022. A recording of the hearing can be found on the Committee website.
This article was contributed by COSSA’s Spring Intern Sofi Cavenaile of the University of Texas, San Antonio.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the creation of its first new research directorate in over 30 years, the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP). The new Directorate will support “use-inspired” research with the goal of “fostering innovation and technology ecosystems, establishing translation pathways, and partnering across sectors to engage the nation’s diverse talent.” In addition to new investments, the directorate will transfer several existing NSF programs into TIP, including the NSF Lab-to-Market Platform comprising the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps), Partnerships for Innovation, and America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF , as well as the NSF Convergence Accelerator. Dr. Erwin Gianchandani, who has been leading planning efforts for TIP at NSF and was previously deputy assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), was named the inaugural Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships.
A major question still to be answered as the new directorate finds its footing is at what level it will be funded and how that funding will affect NSF’s other research directorates, including the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE). The directorate was originally proposed in the Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request (see COSSA’s analysis for more details) and endorsed in Congress’s FY 2022 appropriation package. Initial proposals called for major new investments in NSF to support TIP’s activities. However, Congress did not pass dedicated funding for the new entity for FY 2022, instead directing NSF to fund it within the amounts appropriated to the Research and Related Agencies (R&RA) account—the budget line for existing NSF directorates, including SBE—which received a smaller than anticipated increase in FY 2022.
It is important to note, though, that the report accompanying the omnibus maintains longstanding language that “NSF is directed to allocate no less than the fiscal year 2021 enacted levels to maintain its core research levels…” This language, which first appeared several years ago when social science funding was being singled out for cuts, is intended to safeguard other programs within R&RA from becoming the bank for new activities. However, it remains to be seen how this language will be interpreted by the agency given the smaller final appropriation.
Further complicating the picture are ongoing negotiations in Congress over innovation and competitiveness legislation that will incorporate the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and the House’s America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521). Both bills called for the establishment of a new directorate but differed in their overall approaches. It is unclear whether or to what extent any enacted legislation resulting from these negotiations will have on the direction of the TIP directorate.
On March 24, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) hosted a panel discussion on the topic of improving science communication. In his introductory remarks, Dr. Francis Collins, acting co-chair of PCAST and interim Presidential Science Advisor, noted serious concerns about science communication, specifically with respect to vaccine hesitancy, and stated that PCAST has an opportunity to advise the federal government on how to improve science communication to build public trust. In a nod to previous remarks made by Collins as he stepped down as Director of the National Institutes of Health last year, he acknowledged that he used to think all one needed to do to communicate science to the public was to put the evidence in front of them. He conceded that “trusting the science” is not enough and that the federal government needs help thinking more about this topic, especially as it relates to the spread of misinformation. Turning to the panel, Collins noted that there currently is no dedicated government working group on the topic of science communication broadly, although many existing working groups on other topics have been discussing effective communication. He asked the panel to help PCAST think about what the government should be doing.
The first panelist was Arthur (Skip) Lupia of the University of Michigan. Lupia’s research focuses on how people make decisions with a lack of information. In his presentation, he explained that while evidence-based policy is a popular term at the moment, evidence is not enough for policy because other factors—such as value diversity, positionality, and politics—are at play when developing policy or making recommendations based on science. To increase the likelihood that the public will pay attention and potentially follow policy based on science, messages about science should be (1) immediately relevant to core concerns; that is, connected to people’s thoughts and feelings; (2) consistent with values (e.g., does the information threaten or empower me); and (3) actionable. In addition, Lupia noted that “credibility” is also an important factor, noting that credibility is not inherent, even for scientists, but rather, that credibility is bestowed by the listener or learner. If the scientific information being presented is credible but the messenger is not, the listener may not accept it, and vice versa, said Lupia.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, University of Pennsylvania, continued the discussion by talking about the need to ensure the integrity of facts in public discourse, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. Her presentation included three recommendations: (1) Establish a misconception monitoring, prevalence assessment, and response system for federal health agencies; (2) Make all monitoring, prevalence assessment, and response data available to scholars in real time (i.e., get scholars involved in the process); and (3) Use direct contact with the public to communicate foundational knowledge and bolster trust. Regarding this last point, Jamieson suggests taking basic, foundational knowledge about science and presenting it “every place we touch the public,” such as doctors’ offices, community vaccine clinics, and websites, to name a few. She also called for the federal government to audit the language used by all health agencies in materials to flag and fix instances that increase public susceptibility to misconception.
Consuelo Wilkins, Vanderbilt University, discussed the importance of communicating effectively with diverse communities and building trust. Using COVID-19 as an example, Wilkins discussed her team’s work using community-led teams and success in utilizing community partners to deliver scientific information.
Jessica Hullman, Northwestern University, discussed issues with how statistical data is presented to the public and the need to allow the public to see and understand issues of “uncertainty” in science and statistics. She argued that by deemphasizing uncertainty as a core characteristic of science and statistics, the public is led to incorrectly believe that government information is infallible or certain. As a result, when it is revealed that a data source, such as the Census, contains “uncertainty” or “noisy estimates,” it can be interpreted by the public as inaccurate or untrustworthy data. Hullman argued that “providing obviously imperfect measurements by default avoids the veneer of certitude, normalizing error, and will enable analysts to account for noise in inference.”
PCAST members had lots of questions for the panel, including about the extent to which sociology, psychology, and other social sciences are engaged in studies about communicating science. COSSA will continue to follow PCAST’s work around science communication.
On February 28, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Social and Economic Sciences (SES) Division saw a change of leadership as Dr. Rayvon Fouché took the helm of the division. Fouché, a science and technology studies researcher and professor at Purdue University, succeeds the previous division director Daniel Goroff who led the division from 2019 through 2021. The SES Division is responsible for many of the key social and behavioral science research programs within the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate at NSF. More information is available on the NSF website.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will hold a Virtual Summit on Evidence for Action on April 7, 2022. The summit will kick off a “Year of Evidence for Action” to be focused on “building and strengthening partnerships between evidence communities within and outside of the federal government.” The event will include an opening plenary featuring Acting OSTP Director Alondra Nelson, OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller, Senior Counselor in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) K. Sabeel Rahman, Census Bureau Director Robert Santos, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning, Research and Evaluation, and Chief Evaluation Officer in the Administration for Children & Families Naomi Goldstein. Information on how to RSVP for the Summit is available here.
On March 24, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) released the report ”A Pragmatic Future for NAEP: Containing Costs and Updating Technologies,” which provides recommendations to improve the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Congressionally-mandated assessment administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The report, which is the culmination of one of several NASEM activities related to education research and statistics (see previous coverage), focuses on reducing the costs of administering NAEP and identifying ways to incorporate modern technologies and systems to automate the administrative needs of NAEP. Some of the recommendations in the report include: NCES should develop clear descriptions of current spending on NAEP and ensure the budget can support any major programmatic decisions; NCES should consider structural changes to the assessments including the integration of subjects, the modernization of long-term trend assessment, and the addition of smaller, more frequent updates to the NAEP framework; NCES should commission an independent audit of NAEP management and increase the visibility of NAEP; A greater percentage of the budget should go towards innovations that will increase the use and understanding of NAEP data; NCES should evaluate options when developing technologies for assessment administration, including the Next-Gen eNAEP platform. The report is available on the National Academies website.