Upfront

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has a long list of questions for researchers today. Among them: How can the effects of poverty be reduced to ensure all U.S. children get a quality education? What policies might urge Americans to adopt more healthy behaviors? And, how can legislators encourage young people to save for retirement?

"When we face a public policy challenge, thoughtful, high-quality research points us in the right direction," Warren said at the Consortium of Social Science Associations' (COSSA) annual Colloquium on Social and Behavioral Science and Public Policy. "As a result, our economy and society improve when we have rigorous social science research."

The event in Washington, D.C., Nov. 4–5, brought together more than 100 leaders from universities, research centers, federal agencies and professional organizations, including APA, to address such issues as the impact of technology on societal change, social science and the press, race and affirmative action, and changes in Americans' living arrangements. APA is a founding member of COSSA, which advocates for federal funding of social and behavioral science research.

In her talk, Warren, a lawyer and longtime Harvard Law School professor, shared her own research funding experience. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation in the 1980s, she and two colleagues demonstrated, among other findings, that the main driver of bankruptcy is a major life event, such as a serious medical problem, job loss or divorce.

"My experience is just one of so many NSF grantees who've used their funding to change how we think about the economy, how we think about human behavior, how we think about our communities, how we think about our political structure," she said.

Unfortunately, many of her congressional colleagues don't see the value of social and behavioral science research, which is "constantly under attack," Warren added, while funding for chemistry or biomedical research, for example, is not.

"Over the long term, these targeted efforts to cut our investments in social science research will threaten the ability of Congress to make good decisions by cutting off the pipeline of rigorous analysis that is necessary to help identify what policies work and what policies don't work," Warren said. "Put simply: When policymakers tie the hands of social science researchers, they are tying their own hands as well."

Last fall, Warren called for a doubling of Congress's investment in scientific and biomedical research, as well as more year-to-year certainty for funding those investments. She assured the audience that she would continue to advocate on their behalf. "Social sciences research is critical to developing a safer, stronger America," she said. "I applaud the consortium for fighting for the social sciences, and I'm here today to say: I want to join you."

— Anna Miller