Executive Director's Column

Making the Case for Behavioral and Social Research

The aim here is to help frame priorities for the federal agencies that fund research in the SBE sciences, and to highlight the importance of sustaining and growing the federal investment in SBE research across those agencies.

By Steven Breckler, PhD
steven-brecklerThe subcommittee on Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) just issued a new report, Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research in the Federal Context.  Release of the report was one of the last official acts of John H. Marburger, III, former Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The main focus of this report is on the policy relevance of SBE research, especially in six high-profile areas:

  • Education

  • Health

  • Cooperation and Conflict

  • Societal Resilience and Response to Threats

  • Creativity and Innovation

  • Energy, Environment, and Human Dynamics

Three foundational SBE research themes are identified as ones holding the greatest promise for informing the six policy arenas:

  • Understanding the structure and function of the brain

  • Understanding the complexity of human societies and human activities

  • Understanding the origins of genetic and environmental factors in shaping identity and diversity

The report concludes with a forecast of priority research areas for the immediate future:

  • New tools and technologies

  • Data gathering and management

  • Systems integration

  • Evidence and policy making

The aim here is to help frame priorities for the federal agencies that fund research in the SBE sciences, and to highlight the importance of sustaining and growing the federal investment in SBE research across those agencies.  A very broad array of research examples is provided, highlighting the diversity of SBE research supported by the federal agencies.

The report is simultaneously a message to policy makers and to scientists.  For policy makers, it reinforces the value of SBE research in addressing the most pressing societal challenges of the 21st century.  For scientists, it reminds us that our research priorities should align with the policy priorities of the nation.  For everyone, it underscores the often-unrecognized truth: social, behavioral, and economic science is critical for solving the most significant of challenges facing society today.

The message is not necessarily a new one.  Our own challenge has been to spread that message, attached with high credibility and a strong sense of urgency.  This report offers that opportunity.  It is a report straight from the Executive Office of The President.  It distills current thinking across the Executive Branch, including dozens of federal agencies that both fund and utilize SBE research.

We should seize this opportunity to spread the word.  Read the report, share it with colleagues, send a copy to your Dean.  Perhaps you can share a copy of the report with your representatives in congress.  The subcommittee on SBE Sciences has done us all a great favor by producing this report.  Let’s not waste the opportunity it provides!