On January 15, President-Elect Biden announced key members of his administration’s science and technology team. Dr. Eric Lander, a life scientist and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, will be nominated to direct the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and to serve as the President’s Science Advisor. This role will also be elevated to Cabinet level for the first time.
Dr. Alondra Nelson, a prominent social scientist and President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), a COSSA member, will be appointed to a new senior OSTP role: Deputy Director for Science and Society. Although details about the scope of this role are not yet available, it is expected that the new position will be broader and more senior than the role of Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, a position last filled during the Obama Administration.
Other notable members of the science team include Drs. Frances H. Arnold and Maria Zuber, external co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST); Kei Koizumi, OSTP Chief of Staff; and Narda Jones, OSTP Legislative Affairs Director. In addition, the transition team announced that Dr. Francis Collins will stay on as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). More details are available on the transition team website.
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced his departure, effective January 20, eleven months before the end of his term. The announcement comes after whistleblower complaints came to light that Dillingham and senior political appointees were pressuring Census Bureau employees to rush the publication of a potentially “statistically indefensible” data report on noncitizens. Dillingham’s public announcement of his resignation included a response to questions posed by the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s Office regarding the noncitizens report. Dillingham’s announcement also notes that he has respect for President-elect Biden and had prepared, after requests from the Biden transition team, to stay on after the Presidential transition, but “I must do now what I think is best.” Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin will again serve as acting director of the Bureau, a position he held for over a year prior to Dillingham’s nomination.
The National Science Foundation has released a solicitation related to its Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) Big Idea. The solicitation invites proposals for multidisciplinary research investigating the evolving technological, human and societal aspects of work. Researchers from the social, behavioral and economic sciences are asked to collaborate with researchers in computer science, engineering and learning sciences to investigate the potential impacts of technological innovations and disruptions. More information is available in the full solicitation. Proposals are due on March 23, 2021.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new website for COVID-19 research information, according to a January 19 blog post by NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Mike Lauer. According to Lauer, the website includes key information about the agency’s vaccine and diagnostics programs for COVID-19 as well as searchable information on funded research categorized by state, institution, Congressional district, and other notable fields. The website also includes the latest public-facing information on COVID-19 vaccines and testing, information about participating in clinical trials, and other Federal agency resources on COVID-19. The website is available here.
On December 17, 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report reviewing the policies at five major federal research agencies intended to secure federally funded research from foreign interference. The five agencies under review, the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Science Foundation (NSF), were evaluated on their existing policies requiring researchers to disclose foreign conflicts of interest – including non-financial conflicts of interest such as honorary appointments – and their procedures for addressing failures to disclose these conflicts of interest.
Findings from the report showed that most agencies have taken some actions to improve research security, although noticeable gaps existed in the disclosure policies of non-financial conflicts of interest and the disciplinary procedures for failure to disclose conflicts of interest. The report makes nine recommendations to federal agencies to improve research security policies. Each of the agencies receiving recommendations agreed with GAO’s assessment except for NSF, which neither agreed nor disagreed but still identified actions it would take to address the recommendations.
The recommendations are:
- The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should issue pending guidance and expedite the guidance process for research security issues.
- DOD should develop an agency-wide policy on conflicts of interest for grants.
- DOD should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
- DOE should develop an agency-wide policy on conflicts of interest for grants.
- DOE should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
- NIH should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.
- NASA should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.
- NASA should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
- NSF should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.
COSSA released two HOT TOPIC pieces in January 2020 and October 2020 providing detailed summaries of recent developments in research security policies. The GAO report is available in full on the GAO website.
The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released a Notice of Special Interest announcing a new funding opportunity for research on hesitancy to participate in vaccines among populations that experience health disparities. The notice seeks submissions on a variety of social and behavioral research questions including evaluating strategies to increase vaccination rates among target communities and methods to address barriers of receiving vaccines among health disparate communities, especially those with a higher risk of experiencing vaccine hesitancy. The first available due date for applications is February 5, 2021, with the notice expiring on January 8, 2022. More information is available on the NIH website.
The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is accepting nominations for a social or behavioral scientist to deliver the keynote address at the Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Science Honors on May 5, 2021. The Matilda White Riley Honors are an annual event recognizing transformative work in the fields of social and behavioral science along with early-career researchers. This year is the second time the event will be hosted virtually. Nominees should have a research career that has “advanced behavioral and social scientific knowledge in areas within NIH’s mission and Dr. White Riley’s vision.” More information is available on the OBSSR website. Nominations may be emailed to Erica Spotts by January 29, 2021.
In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the appointment of Dr. Carrie Castille as the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Department’s extramural research agency. Dr. Castille has worked on Farm Production and Conservation as well as Rural Development within USDA and previously served as an Assistant Professor of Agriculture at Louisiana State University. Dr. Castille’s six-year term began on January 4, 2021. She succeeds Acting Director Parag Chitnis, who led the agency following J. Scott Angle’s departure in July 2020, two years into his six-year term.
The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is soliciting nominations for the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP), the advisory body to the HHS Secretary on policies protecting the safety of human participants in research. OHRP is seeking nominations for four positions on the Committee that will be opening during the 2021 and 2022 calendar years. More information and nomination instructions are available in the Federal Register.
A panel of social and behavioral scientists coordinated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released a report titled “COVID-19 Vaccination Communication: Applying Behavioral and Social Science to Address Vaccine Hesitancy and Foster Vaccine Confidence.” The report, led by the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), outlines research-based strategies to communicate the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine while addressing the challenges of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. The strategies laid out in this report are largely based on the fundamentals of communication research while including specific considerations for individuals at highest risk of contracting the virus such as healthcare workers and older adults.
Some of the strategies included in the report are:
- Using accurate and transparent messaging without exaggeration;
- Provoking positive emotions rather than negative emotions in messaging;
- Corresponding through trusted sources of information to the target audience;
- Framing vaccination as a social norm;
- Reaching out early to those that are hesitant about vaccines to help form their views; and
- Build trust slowly with those who mistrust vaccines through compassion and empathy with the goal to encourage vaccinations in the future.
The report is available on the OBSSR website.