Blog Archives

Biden Administration Announces Science Team; Alondra Nelson Tapped for New “Science and Society” Role

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.

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Posted in Issue 2 (January 19), Update, Volume 40

Dillingham Leaves Census Bureau After Whistleblower Complaints About Noncitizen Data Release

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.

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Posted in Issue 2 (January 19), Update, Volume 40

A Message from the Executive Director

Happy New Year!

The beginning of a new year, new Congress and new Administration is a busy time under “normal” circumstances. However, as our battle with the COVID-19 pandemic continues and, hopefully, we inch toward some semblance of pre-pandemic life in 2021, we are forced to prioritize what is most important. At COSSA, the crises of the past year have underscored for us the critical importance of our work and mission: “To promote the value of social and behavioral science research to policymakers and the public with the goal of enhancing federal support.” Our efforts over the past year aimed to tell the story of how social and behavioral science can and is helping to address society’s greatest challenges, from the public health crisis to racial injustice, and many others.

With our eyes focused on the future, last month COSSA developed and transmitted a comprehensive report to the incoming Biden-Harris Administration detailing steps that can be taken to support social and behavioral science research and—more importantly—to utilize insights from our sciences to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges confronting our nation. See the article below for details on our recommendations.

Just as we plan our path forward, it is helpful to reflect on where we have been. COSSA is celebrating its 40th birthday in 2021. As part of our look back, we will feature articles from past COSSA Washington Updates throughout the year. This week’s archived article, 107th Congress Opens, Awaits New Administration, dates back to January 15, 2001. I think you will find it interesting—and perhaps sobering—to extent to which we continue to tackle similar challenges twenty years later.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for supporting COSSA these last 40 years, and especially this past year. We are strongest as a community; COSSA could not do what we do without this community.

Warmest wishes for a safe, healthy and happy 2021.

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Posted in Issue 1 (January 5), Update, Volume 40

NIH Releases Report on COVID-19 Vaccine Communication

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.

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Posted in Issue 25 (December 22), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NSF Invites Proposals for New SBE-Led Initiatives on Strengthening Infrastructure, Broadening Participation in Entrepreneurship, and Enhancing Social Science Capacity at Minority-Serving Institutions

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a pair of Dear Colleague Letters (DCL) soliciting applications from the research community on two new crosscutting initiatives led by the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE). The first letter, Strengthening American Infrastructure (SAI), signed by the Assistant Directors of all seven research directorates and the head of the Office of Integrative Activities, seeks Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) proposals that “incorporate scientific insights about human behavior and social dynamics to better develop, design, build, rehabilitate, and maintain strong and effective American infrastructure” (which can include cyber, economic, educational, physical, and social). According to the DCL, “NSF is particularly interested in proposals that integrate a deep understanding of human cognition, perception, information processing, decision making, social and cultural behavior, legal frameworks, governmental structures, and related areas into the design, development, and sustainability of infrastructure.” The deadline for EAGER concept outline proposals is December 11. More information is available in the Dear Colleague Letter.

The second announcement invites proposals on “identifying contextual factors and mitigation strategies to enhance participation and success of various populations in STEM entrepreneurship and innovation.” This effort, Broadening Participation in STEM Entrepreneurship and Innovation (BPINNOVATE), falls within SBE’s Science of Science program but receives support from the Education and Human Resources (EHR), Engineering (ENG), and Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorates, as well as the NSF Office of Integrative Activities. In addition, other NSF programs will also support opportunities for research on this topic, including the NSF Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps), the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP), the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic Serving Institutions Program (HSI), and the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP) programs. Proposals through the Science of Science program are due by February 9, 2021. More information is available in the Dear Colleague Letter.

SBE has also announced a new program, Build and Broaden 2.0: Enhancing Social, Behavioral and Economic Science Research and Capacity at Minority-Serving Institutions (B2 2.0). This program is part of SBE’s efforts to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in SBE programs by encouraging research collaborations between minority institutions and other research institutions. The new DCL follows on the original Build and Broaden solicitation that came out earlier this year but, because of COVID, was limited to workshop/conference proposals. The solicitation is expected to be posted shortly in the coming days at this link. Proposals are due by March 5, 2021.

In addition to these new efforts, SBE’s Human Networks and Data Science (HNDS) program, which was formerly the Resource Implementations for Data Intensive Research in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (RIDIR) program, has released its second annual solicitation under its new name. The revised program now includes two tracks: HNDS-Infrastructure (formerly RIDIR) and HNDS-Core Research. Details on the new research component are available in the solicitation. Proposals are due by February 4, 2021.

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Posted in Issue 24 (December 8), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Senate Releases Appropriations Bills Ahead of Omnibus Negotiations

On November 10, the Senate Appropriations Committee released the text of all 12 fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills; this is for the fiscal year that officially began last month on October 1. As previously reported, the House of Representatives passed 10 of its bills in July. The release of the Senate bills signals that lawmakers plan to negotiate final FY 2021 spending during this post-election lame duck session. Senators are not expected to take up the bills on the Senate floor; rather, their bills are meant as a jumping off point for negotiations with the House on a final deal.

As a reminder, the federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR) until December 11, leaving just four weeks to complete the bills—likely through a large omnibus package. There are reports that a second CR may be needed to extend the deadline by another week, providing lawmakers additional time to complete their work on the FY 2021 bills.

Read on for COSSA’s full analysis of the Senate FY 2021 funding bills for federal agencies and programs important to the social and behavioral science research community. And take a moment to contact your lawmakers and urge their support for social science funding in the final FY 2021 appropriations bill.

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Posted in Issue 23 (November 24), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

President-Elect Biden and a Divided Congress: 2021 Policy Outlook

The results of the 2020 elections seemed to have something for everyone to be happy (or unhappy) about. Former Vice President Joe Biden pulled out a convincing electoral victory, and while President Trump has yet to concede and his team continues to threaten legal challenges to the results, these protestations seem to be largely political theater at this point. However, while winning the White House was obviously the most important outcome for Democrats, they dramatically underperformed expectations in the Congressional races. This outcome likely leaves President-elect Biden with a difficult landscape to navigate in order to enact his policy agenda after the transition.

Presidential Transition

With the presidential race decided, attention now turns to the presidential transition. Almost immediately, the President-elect’s team began moving forward with plans and key appointments. The President-elect launched a transition website that so far lists four major priorities for the new Administration: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. In addition, the transition team has appointed a COVID-19 Advisory Board headed by David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner and Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco; Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, Associate Dean for Health Equity Research at the Yale School of Medicine. COSSA will continue to provide updates on plans for the transition, including notable policies and appointments.

House Races

While Democrats headed into Election Day hoping to expand their majority in the House of Representatives, the results tell a different story. The House will likely remain under Democratic control; however, at the time of this writing, Republicans flipped eight seats while Democrats have netted only three.

Notable Results:

  • Donna Shalala (D-FL), former Clinton cabinet member and professor of political science, was defeated in a re-match with Maria Elvira Salazar (R).
  • Kendra Horn (D-OK), member of the House Science Committee, lost to Oklahoma State Senator Stephanie Bice (R).
  • Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), PhD political scientist and social science champion, lost his primary bid to a more progressive Democrat, Marie Newman, earlier this year. Newman went on to win the seat against her Republican challenger in the general election.

Despite these losses, several major science—including social science—champions on both sides of the aisle won reelection. A few races remain too close to call, such as incumbent Rep. Matt Cartwright’s (D-PA) bid against Trump booster Jim Bognet (R); Rep. Cartwright is a pro-science member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Also important to watch is the incoming Republican freshman class, which will be skewed pro-Trump. Of particular note is the election of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), both proud QAnon conspiracy theorists, and Ronny Jackson (R-TX), who served as the White House physician from 2013-2018.

Senate Races

Underwhelming performance by Democrats in the Senate races was also a major headline, especially given that Democrats went into Election Day with the real potential of securing Senate control. Republican incumbents defied the odds, with a net loss of only one seat (having lost two and flipped one). Given the likely win of the Republican incumbents in the two outstanding Senate races (Alaska and North Carolina), we expect control of the Senate to be decided by a runoff election for Georgia’s two Senate seats in early January. The Democrats would need to flip both seats to tie control of the Senate 50-50, which would allow the Democratic White House to break ties in their favor.

Notable Results:

  • Cory Gardner (R-CO), who has been a visible figure in pro-science policy activities over the last several years, was defeated by former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D).
  • Martha McSally (R-AZ) has been unseated by astronaut Mark Kelly (D).
  • Gary Peters (D-MI), vocal supporter of science, narrowly won reelection in Michigan.
  • GOP incumbents Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Steve Daines (R-MT) all squeaked out wins in highly competitive races.

With so many unknowns, close monitoring over the next several weeks will be critical to determining a path forward for social science advocacy. Stay tuned to COSSA for the latest developments.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 10), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

ASA Webinar Corrects the Record on “Race and Sex Stereotyping” Executive Actions

The American Sociological Association (ASA), a COSSA governing member, held a webinar on October 20 to respond to recent White House actions prohibiting trainings and other activities that touch on white privilege, structural inequality, and other supposedly “divisive” concepts (see previous coverage). The webinar “Sociology Speaks: Experts Explain the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” featured three sociologists, Karyn Lacy of the University of Michigan, Bandana Purkayastha of the University of Connecticut, and Shelley Correll of Stanford University, who corrected the misrepresentations of these concepts in the orders and memoranda and explained how they have contributed to a better understanding of power and prejudice. A recording of the webcast is available on ASA’s website.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 27), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Get Out the Vote with “Vote Science Strong”

Research!America, a DC-based advocacy organization working in support of health and medical research, has partnered with several scientific organizations on a website aimed at equipping the scientific community with resources to help make informed decisions at the polls this November. Vote Science Strong seeks to make scientific research—across all domains—part of the conversation in this year’s elections. It includes several different tools to help scientists engage with candidates, such as through town hall meetings and social media, and includes factsheets on the benefits of research to various aspects of life. Help amplify science in this year’s elections by visiting Vote Science Strong and sharing the resources with your colleagues.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 13), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Administration Expands Ban on “Promotion” of Structural Racism/Sexism to Contractors, Grantees

As part of the Administration’s ongoing effort to crack down on perceived “political correctness” in government, President Trump issued an executive order on September 22 to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” This order expands on a recent memorandum from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that required federal agencies to cease funding for training that addresses critical race theory and white privilege (see previous coverage). The executive order applies this prohibition to federal contractors and grant recipients. In addition, it expands the original OMB memo beyond employee training to require that federal agencies certify that federal grantees will not use federal funds to “promote the concepts” that:

“(a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (e) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.”

This raises the concerns that, depending on how the language is interpreted by federal agency leadership, the prohibition could apply to federal social science research grants that address structural racism and sexism. The order gives agency heads 60 days to compile a list of grant programs that violate this prohibition. We will continue to follow the implementation of this order closely and report on developments affecting social scientists. COSSA recently joined a statement led by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the National Academy of Education in support of anti-racist education.

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Posted in Issue 19 (September 29), Update, Volume 39 (2020)


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