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New Indication of Support for Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH

The question of how to advance basic research in the behavioral and social sciences in the absence of a “home” for such research has been debated at NIH for much of the last decade.

By Patricia Kobor

Raynard Kington, Acting Director of the National Institutes of Health, recently announced that he has brokered a new partnership to advance basic research in the behavioral and social sciences. Jeremy Berg, Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and Richard Hodes, Director of the National Institute on Aging, will co-chair a group to develop a Blueprint for Basic Behavioral and Social Science.

“It was clear that basic behavioral and social science research was a trans-institute issue, and better coordination and funding would require a trans-institute solution,” Dr. Berg told a meeting of the NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Coordinating Committee in March.

The organizational structure is inspired by the Neuroscience Blueprint, a plan for joint action of the NIH institutes that fund neuroscience research.  Participating institutes contribute to the pool of funds according to the amount of their neuroscience research portfolio, resulting in a pot of funds of about $38 million in FY 09. The Blueprint institutes decide jointly how best to allocate the funds to advance the field. Similarly, the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Blueprint would be a research plan accompanied by a pool of funds to which multiple institutes would contribute. 

The question of how to advance basic research in the behavioral and social sciences in the absence of a “home” for such research has been debated at NIH for much of the last decade.  In 2004, a working group formed out of the Advisory Committee to then-Director of NIH Elias Zerhouni recommended that a home be created within one of the institutes with the broadest research mission (e.g., NIA, NICHD, NIGMS).  Changing priorities within the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which had historically funded a significant amount of basic behavioral research, contributed to the urgency of that discussion.  Throughout this period, science advocacy organizations including APA have pressed for NIH to increase coordination for this research area and to identify and fill funding gaps. 

APA Government Relations staff will work closely with NIH officials with the goal of ensuring that the new Blueprint encompasses a comprehensive range of basic behavioral and social science research and that sufficient funds are allocated to the plan.  Further developments will be reported in future issues of PSA.