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NSF Searches for New Biology Chief as Animal Cognition Researchers Call for Shift in Focus

A group of fifty-seven scientists with expertise in animal learning, cognition, and behavior recently submitted a white paper to Dr. Steven Beering, chair of the National Science Board (the oversight body of NSF) expressing concerns about the direction that NSF funding of animal behavior research has taken in recent years.

The National Science Foundation has initiated a search for a new Assistant Director for Biological Sciences to succeed Dr. James Collins, who has served in that position since 2005.   The Assistant Director leads the Directorate for Biological Sciences, one of the major units of NSF.  Of particular interest to psychologists, this Directorate funds research on neural systems and on animal behavior. 

A group of fifty-seven scientists with expertise in animal learning, cognition, and behavior recently submitted a white paper to Dr. Steven Beering, chair of the National Science Board (the oversight body of NSF) expressing concerns about the direction that NSF funding of animal behavior research has taken in recent years.  These scientists point to a “dramatic decline in NSF’s support of basic laboratory research into the nature of learning and cognition in animals” and “a clear bias in the Animal Behavior program away from process and mechanism and toward evolution, ecology, and function.”  According to these scientists, reductions in funding by both NSF and the National Institutes of Health have “created what may very well herald the imminent demise of the science of animal learning and cognition in America.”  They call for NSF either to establish a new program for laboratory research on animal cognition and learning or to alter the missions of existing programs to accommodate this research area. 

APA has also communicated concerns about declines in NSF funding for animal learning and cognition research, through meetings it has arranged between scientists and Foundation officials and in testimony to Congress.  APA will continue to press the issue as the search for a new Assistant Director progresses.  

Psychological scientists are encouraged to apply for and recommend candidates for the Assistant Director position, and to express their own views to NSF about the direction of research funding.  Additional information can be obtained from the APA Science Government Relations Office (contact Geoff Mumford).