National Academies Highlights the Value of Social Science

At the request of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened an expert committee, chaired by Alan Leshner, CEO Emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to study the contributions of the social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences to the national interest. The committee’s report, The Value of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences to National Priorities, published last week, is a ringing endorsement of the importance of these fields to addressing “nearly every major challenge the United States faces.” The report draws three conclusions: (1) SBE sciences “produce a better understanding of the human aspects of the natural world, contributing knowledge, methods, and tools that further the mission of the National Science Foundation;” (2) SBE sciences provide understanding, tools, and methods that help other agencies achieve their missions; (3) the SBE sciences have made contributions that “have been applicable to businesses and industry and that have enhanced the U.S. economy.” To support its findings, the report provides supporting examples detailing the contributions of SBE research to health, prosperity and welfare, national defense, progress in science, missions of other agencies, and industry and business.

The committee also issued four recommendations for NSF and the broader SBE community: (1) NSF should undertake a systematic and transparent strategic planning process related to SBE sciences; (2) NSF should “continue to support the development of tools, methods, and research teams” to advance SBE sciences, facilitate their interactions with other fields, and help NSF and other organizations more effectively address national needs; (3) NSF should support training “consistent with the ways science is evolving across all scientific fields;” and (4) NSF should work to better communicate the results and value of the SBE research it supports and to encourage the broader scientific community to increase its own efforts to better communicate the value of SBE research.

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