COSSA members are encouraged to sign up for the monthly COSSA Headlines webchat on Thursday April 8, in which COSSA staff will break down the most important social and behavioral science news from the past month and answer your questions. Individuals employed by or affiliated with a COSSA member organization or university can register for the webchat here.
In celebration of COSSA’s 40th anniversary, we are diving into the decades of Washington Update archives to share articles from years past that resonate with today’s news.
On March 28 the National Science Board approved a new merit review process for proposed grants submitted for National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. Proposed by a Task Force of the Board in November (see Update, December 16, 1996), NSF took comments from the community for three months and made some changes for their final recommendations.
The new process tries to simplify and clarify rules for those who evaluate proposals. Under the old system reviewers were asked to consider four general criteria. The new system asks for assessments of proposals based on the answers to two broad questions: What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity? And 2) What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity? For each of these, there are a series of more specific questions that should be considered, including how the proposal broadens participation of women and minorities, enhances the infrastructure of sciences, and benefits society. […]
The new process also includes a single composite rating, separate comments for each criterion, and a summary recommendation that addresses both criteria. The new system will go into effect for all proposals received beginning October 1, 1997.
Read more from this issue.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held an oversight hearing on March 23 to review activities related to the 2020 Census and the Census Bureau. The hearing featured the testimony of Ron Jarmin, Acting Director of the Census Bureau; J. Christopher Mihm, Managing Director for Strategic Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Nick Marinos, Director of Information Technology & Cybersecurity at GAO. Panelists answered questions on the outcome of the 2020 Census operation, including its use of new technologies, efforts to reach diverse communities, and the status of the Post-Enumeration Survey. In addition, several Republican members of the Committee questioned Director Jarmin about the Census Bureau’s decision to wait to release apportionment and redistricting data, despite Congressional deadlines, in order to produce more accurate data (see previous coverage). The Senators noted that the Bureau’s current timeline for releasing the information conflicts with some states’ constitutional deadlines to conduct reapportionment, which has led some states to sue the Bureau to release the data sooner. Jarmin maintained that the Bureau was doing everything it can to release accurate data as quickly as possible. A recording of the hearing and the witnesses’ written testimony is available on the HSGAC website.
On March 25, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on health equity and health disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee members heard testimony from Vice President for Health Equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Dr. Consuelo H. Wilkins, Executive Vice President of the Seattle Indian Health Board Abigail Echo-Hawk, Managing Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress Taryn Mackenzie Williams, and President and CEO of Atrium Health Gene A. Woods.
Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), and Committee members all expressed concerns over deep health disparities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including for communities of color, individuals with disabilities, the elderly, and rural communities. The Committee members questioned the witnesses on a variety of topics including COVID-19 vaccines and how to equitably distribute them to at-risk communities, the effect of the pandemic on Indian and tribal health services, the increased importance of telehealth during the pandemic, diversity among clinal trial participants for vaccines, and incorporating health equity practices in health data and data management.
The witnesses’ testimonies and a full recording of the hearing are available on the HELP website.
On March 17, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing to address strategies to rebuild the federal scientific workforce especially related to recruiting and retaining scientific talent. The Subcommittee heard testimony from Acting Director for Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics at the U.S. Government Accountability Office Candice Wright; President and CEO at the Partnership for Public Service Max Stier; Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists Dr. Andrew Rosenberg; and Former Director of Science and Technology at the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency Dr. Betsy Southerland.
Subcommittee Chairman Bill Foster (D-IL) and Ranking Member Jay Obernolte (R-CA) both acknowledged the need to improve the capabilities of the federal government to hire scientists, and Subcommittee members of both parties seemed broadly supportive of suggestions provided by the panelists to increase the federal scientific workforce and reform federal hiring practices. Some of the recommendations discussed by Subcommittee members and panelists included reducing the budgetary and political restraints on hiring scientists, improving the federal government’s “brand” as an employer, simplifying the federal job-hunting process for scientists, offering meaningful scientific internships as a legitimate pipeline to full-time employment, investing in STEM education opportunities in elementary schools, and deemphasizing the reliance on temporary workers and contractors at federal agencies. Both Foster and Obernolte expressed interest in pursuing legislative action on these topics in the future.
Statements from Foster and full Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), witness testimonies, and a full recording of the hearing are available on the SST website.
On March 18, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) released a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 21-059) offering guidance to proposal writers for shaping their broader impacts arguments. The notice makes no changes to NSF’s existing merit review criteria, which currently considers a project’s intellectual merit and broader impacts potential. Rather, it offers a framework for SBE researchers to consider “to develop and communicate their projects’ broader impacts more effectively” and “for connecting fundamental research outcomes to quality of life improvements for others.” The framework includes three guiding questions for principal investigators to consider:
- Who can the scientific opportunities and communicative products empower?
- Whose quality of life can the empowerment improve?
- What actions make these broader impacts more likely?
Additional details are available here.
Separately during its February meeting, the National Science Board (NSB) passed a resolution directing the use of broader impacts expertise on NSF Committees of Visitors (COV). COV panels provide external evaluations of NSF’s existing programs and processes, making recommendations to the agency and the NSB for ways to improve programs and agency functions. Recent COV reviews noted significant disparity in how proposal review panels discuss intellectual merit and broader impacts, often with broader impacts receiving much less attention. In response, the NSB has directed the agency to develop a plan for ensuring that broader impacts expertise is included on all future COV panels. This is meant as a first step toward addressing concerns about uneven application of intellectual merit and broader impacts criterion on review panels. A recording of the NSB meeting is available here.
On March 23, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a notice (NOT-OD-21-088) further delaying enforcement of the NIH Policy on Dissemination of NIH-Funded Clinical Trials Information for basic experimental studies with human participants (BESH). As previously reported, NIH established a revised definition of “clinical trials” several years ago, which now includes some basic behavioral and social science research and mandates new reporting requirements. The new registration and reporting requirements—specifically requirements to register and report in ClinicalTrials.gov—have presented challenges for some types of behavioral and social science projects that now fall under the BESH category. In response, NIH delayed enforcement of these requirements for BESH projects through September 24, 2021. This latest move delays enforcement for two additional years, through September 24, 2023, allowing the agency additional time to “work with the BESH community to explore solutions that allow for the dissemination of information in ways that are useful to other researchers and members of the public, while also maintaining the NIH commitment to stewardship and increasing transparency.” In the interim, if not reported in ClinicalTrials.gov, BESH projects are expected to be registered and results reported on alternative publicly available platforms. See the Notice for full details.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued its annual call for recommendations for membership to its various advisory committees and technical boards. These committees advise NSF’s offices and directorates on program management, research direction, and policies impacting the agency. Committees of particular interest to the COSSA community include the Advisory Committee for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences and the Advisory Committee for Education and Human Resources. Guidelines for recommendations and committee contact information can be found in the Federal Register. Recommendations for membership are maintained for 12 months.