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COSSA advocates for sustainable federal funding for and widespread use of social and behavioral science research and federal policies that positively impact the conduct of research.

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Competing Visions: The NSF for the Future Act and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act

Summary

In June 2021, the House and Senate advanced separate versions of legislation to enhance U.S. innovation and global competitiveness. The approaches taken by the two bills, however, differ dramatically. The Senate bill focuses squarely on ways to harness and in some cases alter the nation’s scientific assets to better compete with China. The House bill, on the other hand, doubles down on the nation’s existing, proven scientific leadership and proposes additional investments to push the U.S. research enterprise—particularly the National Science Foundation—in new directions.

Despite the many differences between them, some parallels can be found; for example, both propose establishing a new directorate at the National Science Foundation focused on technology development and translational research, and both measures include substantive provisions related to research security and STEM education. Beyond that, though, many unresolved differences remain.

The following pages include COSSA’s in-depth analysis and comparison of provisions in the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) that are of most relevance to the social and behavioral science community.

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COSSA Statement in Support of the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225)

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) is pleased to endorse the bipartisan National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225), introduced by leaders of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Haley Stevens (D-MI), and Michael Waltz (R-FL). We are especially appreciative of the open and consultative process used to develop this important legislation and attention paid to the utility of the social and behavioral sciences in bringing scientific findings to bear on solving critical societal challenges. Further, the NSF for the Future Act takes a holistic approach to NSF reauthorization, recognizing that U.S. scientific leadership and competitiveness hinge not only on technological advancement, but on support for research starting at the most fundamental level and across all domains of science.

The U.S. scientific enterprise requires stability, predictability, and sustainable funding growth to thrive. Just as importantly, it requires an environment that allows it to invest in the best ideas and take risks to achieve transformative scientific advancements. The NSF for the Future Act authorizes five years of sustained funding growth to address years of stagnant budgets, invests in strengthening the STEM pipeline—most notably, by broadening access to research opportunities to those historically underrepresented—and proposes the establishment of a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions aimed at supporting “use-inspired” research to address “areas of societal and national importance.” Further, it reaffirms peer review as the process by which the scientific merit of individual proposals is assessed, advancing the rigor, impact, and innovation that are hallmarks of world class basic research.

The legislation thoughtfully balances the critical need to preserve NSF’s defining role—to be an incubator for basic scientific discovery across all areas of science—while moving the agency in new and exciting directions. COSSA appreciates the thoughtful manner in which the legislation has proposed establishing a new directorate focused on use-inspired research to address some of the most complex societal challenges, including giving NSF leadership the responsibility to identify focus areas for the directorate. We look forward to continued engagement with the bill’s sponsors to define a role for the new directorate that complements existing NSF research activities, increases opportunities for all STEM fields—including the social and behavioral sciences—and advances the agency’s mission while adhering to its core principles of fundamental research.

Finally, COSSA applauds the attention paid to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM and ensuring safe and inclusive research experiences free from harassment and discrimination. The legislation recognizes that broadening participation in STEM requires the dismantling of structural barriers at the institutional level—an insight research from the social and behavioral sciences has helped to illuminate. The NSF for the Future Act includes proposals to enhance NSF’s efforts in this regard and expand access to research opportunities by codifying the INCLUDES initiative, increasing resources for graduate training and mentorship, enhancing the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and creating a pilot program to encourage partnerships with “emerging research institutions.”

NSF’s discovery-driven mission has enabled countless scientific breakthroughs over its more than 70-year history and will continue to guide the American scientific enterprise to new frontiers. COSSA looks forward to working with the bill’s sponsors to develop the strongest possible reauthorization for NSF that includes robust, sustained funding, promotes diversity, equity and inclusion in the scientific enterprise, and keeps the U.S. at the fore of discovery.

Read the statement.

Statement on the Biden Administration’s Appointment of Dr. Alondra Nelson as Office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director for Science and Society

Washington, D.C. — The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) is greatly encouraged by the incoming Biden-Harris administration’s choice to elevate the Office of Science and Technology Policy Director’s position to the Cabinet level and especially heartened by the restoration and expansion of the Deputy Director for Science and Society position. “The choice of Dr. Alondra Nelson for the Deputy Director’s post is an outstanding one,” said Wendy Naus, COSSA’s Executive Director. “Dr. Nelson is a highly accomplished and widely recognized sociologist, whose leadership at the Social Science Research Council has been exemplary.”

The Deputy Director’s portfolio is still being developed, but featuring people prominently in the scientific equation is essential. According to Ed Liebow, COSSA’s board chair and executive director of the American Anthropological Association, “At its core, science is a never-ending and self-correcting quest for advancing our understanding of our evolving universe, a quest that is pursued by repeating a three-step cycle: predict – observe – revise our predictions. And here is where ‘society’ plays an essential role. We consider science to be ‘socially situated,’ by which we mean that at any given point in history, specific social and cultural circumstances shape the scientific problems we choose to pursue, the vantage points from which we make observations and interpret their significance, the investments we make in scientific infrastructure, and how we communicate the importance of scientific findings.”

Whether the applications of scientific research are dedicated to tackling such formidable problems as mitigating the effects of global climate change, eliminating health disparities, doing away with race-based and other forms of social injustice, preserving cultural heritage, or reducing the risk of armed conflict, COSSA stands by Dr. Nelson as she takes on this important service in the public interest.

Read the statement.

Putting Social and Behavioral Science to Work for America: 10 Recommendations to the Biden Administration

From COVID-19 to racial inequity, climate change to a struggling economy, a disrupted educational system to record-breaking unemployment, the country finds itself in urgent need of immediate policy solutions—solutions that are based on unbiased, sound, and reliable science. Fortunately, there is virtually no aspect of human life that cannot be informed by research in the social and behavioral sciences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that “business as usual” policies and practices, even when it comes to science, are not enough. The Biden-Harris Administration has before it an opportunity to strengthen the U.S. scientific enterprise by making it more sustainable, diverse, and responsive to emerging needs. By investing in and utilizing social and behavioral science insights, the incoming administration can put people back at the center of policymaking.

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) is pleased to offer the following recommendations to the incoming Biden-Harris Administration of tangible steps the administration can take to achieve meaningful results using insights derived from the social and behavioral sciences. COSSA and the social and behavioral science research community stand ready to assist the incoming administration “Build Back Better,” tackling the most critical near- and longer-term challenges with the help of science and evidence.

Read the recommendations.

Research Security Revisited: COVID-19 & Immigration

Summary

In January 2020, COSSA released a Hot Topic titled “Foreign Interference in the U.S. Research Enterprise & Policy Responses,” which reported on the broad policy concerns about securing the U.S. research enterprise, foreign influence, racial bias against Chinese and Chinese-American citizens, and the wide range of actions in response to these concerns taken by the White House, federal agencies, and Congress. Since the publication of that analysis, the sudden and unprecedented global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the early months of 2020 has had a significant impact on the policy conversations surrounding the security of the U.S. research enterprise. The global community became singularly focused on developing vaccines or other treatments for COVID-19, directing attention away from other science priorities. Furthermore, the pandemic has had other indirect impacts on research security, in some cases exacerbating existing concerns such as discrimination against Chinese citizens, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, and a chilling effect on international research collaboration.

The following pages revisit the topics discussed earlier in the year and provide updates on activities that have since occurred, including how the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected U.S. research security activities. Readers are encouraged to read the information in the prior report for a more comprehensive look at research security efforts and concerns prior to January 2020.

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2020 COSSA Rankings Show UNC, Michigan Leading U.S. Universities in Social Science Funding

Washington, D.C. — The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) has released its 2020 College and University Rankings for Federal Social and Behavioral Science R&D, which highlight the top university recipients of research dollars in the social and behavioral sciences. As in previous years, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor continue to lead the nation in total federal social science research funding. UNC Chapel Hill received $135.6 million in federal social science R&D, with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor coming in at $106.7 million. The 2020 rankings include 530 colleges and universities, representing a total of $1.9 billion in federal research investment in the social and behavioral sciences. This year’s rankings also feature a dashboard on the COSSA website that allows users to engage with an interactive map of institutions receiving social and behavioral science R&D funding.

“Our 2020 Rankings show how important the social sciences are to higher education institutions across the United States,” said Wendy Naus, COSSA Executive Director. “The federal government’s $2 billion annual investment in research in the social sciences boosts local economies around the country in the short term and leads to tangible longer-term benefits in the form of science-backed findings that make our society safer, healthier, fairer, and more secure.”

Based on federally collected data, the COSSA rankings use an inclusive selection of disciplines representing the breadth of the social and behavioral sciences to calculate the total federal R&D funding received by universities in the social and behavioral sciences. The 2020 rankings reflect spending from fiscal year 2018, the most current available data. More information on how COSSA produces its rankings is available on its website.

Top Recipients of Federal Social Science R&D Funding

  1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill* (NC) – $132,574,000 (#1 in 2019)
  2. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor* (MI) – $108,666,000 (#2 in 2019)
  3. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities* (MN) – $47,121,000 (#3 in 2019)
  4. University of Maryland, College Park* (MD) – $45,712,000 (#4 in 2019)
  5. University of Southern California (CA) – $34,943,000 (#9 in 2019)
  6. University of Washington, Seattle (WA) – $33,484,000 (#6 in 2019)
  7. Arizona State University* (AZ) – $33,327,000 (#12 in 2019)
  8. Pennsylvania State University, University Park and Hershey Medical Center* (PA) – $33,313,000 (#5 in 2019)
  9. Boston University* (MA) – $31,900,000 (#25 in 2019)
  10. New York University (NY) – $30,155,000 (#8 in 2019)

* Denotes COSSA member

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Foreign Interference in the U.S. Research Enterprise & Policy Responses

Summary

In recent years, United States federal research agencies have faced growing concerns of reports of U.S. research and intellectual property being stolen, illegally transferred, or tampered with by foreign governments, notably the Chinese government. These agencies have employed a variety of methods to protect research from foreign interference, including commissioning reports for policy recommendations, requesting information from the research community on potential bad actors, issuing clarifying statements on the federal grant application process, and tightening regulations on various parts of the research infrastructure. However, some of these policies—which affect universities and researchers from all disciplines—have been criticized both for creating a chilling effect on the open and collaborative nature of the research community and for unjustly singling out researchers of Chinese descent.

The following pages detail the latest threats of foreign influence on the U.S. research enterprise as well as actions taken across the federal government to address them. As this is a developing story with agencies continuing to develop policies in response, COSSA will be closely monitoring efforts to harmonize agency policies, address concerns of racial bias against Chinese scientists, and protect the open nature of the U.S. research enterprise.

Read more.

COSSA Statement in Support of the Improving Justice Programs through Science Act of 2019 (S. 2286/H.R. 3989)

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) supports the Improving Justice Programs through Science Act of 2019 (S. 2286 and H.R. 3989) as introduced by Senator Brian Schatz and Representative Madeleine Dean. The bill would reestablish the Science Advisory Board within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) at the Department of Justice, the charter of which lapsed in 2018 under the Trump Administration.  As an organization that works to promote and advance the role the social and behavioral sciences play in informing policy, COSSA recognizes that having an active science advisory body within the Department of Justice will help ensure criminal justice policies are backed by evidence.

Since its 2010 authorization, the OJP Science Advisory Board worked with staff at the Department of Justice to create guidelines for implementing and evaluating efforts to reduce crime, strategies to address diminishing response rates to critical Department of Justice surveys, and methods for police departments to better communicate with the communities they serve. As the government responds to complex and shifting dynamics in the legal landscape, including implementing criminal justice reform legislation, addressing the challenges of the opioid epidemic, and understanding the impact of new technologies on crime and policing, it is more important than ever that the Department of Justice have ready access to scientific expertise. The Improving Justice Programs through Science Act would help to restore science and evidence to its rightful place in helping to guide criminal justice policy.

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New NIH “Clinical Trials” Definition to Impact Basic Social and Behavioral Science Research

Summary

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been working for the last few years to enhance its stewardship of and increase transparency over the clinical trials it funds. The agency, which is the largest funder of clinical trials in the U.S., issued a Notice of Revised NIH Definition of “Clinical Trial” (NOT-OD-15-015) in late 2014 laying out a new, expanded definition to govern which research projects are to be categorized as a “clinical trial” from here on out.

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HHS Announces Final Changes to Human Subjects Research Regulations

Summary

During the final days of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the final text for its changes to the Common Rule, the regulations that govern research with human subjects, completing a revision process started in 2011. The Common Rule, which was last updated in 1991, affects research supported by 16 federal departments and agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Defense, Education, Commerce, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the National Science Foundation.

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Reducing the Regulatory Burden on Federally-Funded Researchers

Summary

Over the past several years, the scientific community and policymakers alike have become increasingly concerned about the amount of time and resources scientists must devote to administrative tasks in order to apply for and comply with the terms of federal research grants. Lengthy application processes with pre- and post-award requirements, complex accreditation mechanisms, complicated accounting and purchasing regulations, and reporting requirements are just some of the burdensome requirements on federally-funded researchers.

Stakeholders in the federal government and scientific community are seeking a remedy, but finding one has proven difficult.

The following pages discuss some of the major efforts made in recent years to better understand issues of regulatory burden and to begin to develop roadmaps for addressing it. As you will read, there is no shortage of ideas, but given the complexity of the topic and the many players—federal agencies, Congress, research institutions, and researchers themselves—the path to relief is less clear.

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Scientific Organizations Reflect on Building “Trust in Science”

Summary

The scientific community has been grappling with topics related to science communication and public trust in science lately. According to Pew Research Associate Director Cary Funk, the public generally has confidence in both the institution of science and scientists as a profession. However, when it comes to specific science-related issues like evolution, attitudes become more varied and may be correlated with factors like political ideology, education, and religiosity, depending on the topic. There is certainly a sense that “science” has been on the defensive lately as public policy debates on climate change, childhood vaccinations, and genetically modified foods generate controversy and incidents like the high-profile retraction of a study on attitudes toward same-sex marriage grab headlines.

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