Thursday, July 14, 2011

Threat to NSF funding for STS

From Laurel Smith-Doerr:

Dear Colleagues,

The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice & Science (CJS) is considering changing the 2012 appropriation to eliminate the Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate at the NSF, which includes the STS Program.  The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), a coalition to which the ASA belongs supporting Federal funding for the social sciences, is encouraging its members to write to their House Representatives and Senators, urging the House to continue to support the human sciences at NSF.  Having had the privilege of serving recently as one of the Program Officers at the NSF in the SBE directorate, I want to endorse COSSA's request, believing that eliminating SBE would be disastrous for the social sciences in the US and for sociology in particular.

So I encourage you to write to your House Representatives and US Senators, ideally before the CJS Subcommittee meeting on 7 July, or before the full House Appropriations Committee meeting on  13 July, and at least before the floor discussion scheduled for the week of 25 July.

You may want to copy Subcommittee Chair Frank Wolf R-VA and Ranking Member Chakah Fattah D-PA and perhaps other members of the Subcommittee ( and Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) (  You can find contact information for your representative using the ?Write Your Representative? feature at, and you will find a list of Senators, sortable by state, at

We all lead busy lives and if you prefer to send something more or less ready made I suggest something along the lines of the letter made available by the previous Assistant Director of SBE (a linguist) at  You may copy and paste the text from this letter (make sure the formatting has copied appropriately) and if you have the opportunity, elaborate and tell your representatives something about our field. Furthermore, you might strengthen your argument by pointing to NSF-supported work being conducted at a university in the representative's area.

Support will be particularly valuable from the Republican party. I wrote to Scott Brown, using the AD's letter as a starting point. My letter is pasted below (unformatted).

Please feel free to forward this request to colleagues, I have taken parts of it from the linguists but obviously it is important for representatives to hear from all of the social sciences.

Laurel Smith-Doerr

July 1, 2011
Scott Brown
US Senator
2400 JFK Federal Building
15 New Sudbury St.
Boston, MA 02203

Dear Senator Brown,
I am alarmed to hear that the House Commerce, Justice & Science Committee is considering eliminating or severely cutting back the directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In the US, basic research in the social sciences is funded alongside the natural sciences and engineering, through the same agency. This is unusual from an international perspective and means that the social sciences are done better here, by being more closely integrated with work in the other sciences. Having the full range of basic science funded within one agency has led to more collaborative, interdisciplinary work, with better results on all sides.

One major example of this integration is our study of scientific innovation itself, one of the most important drivers of a strong economy (as acknowledged in the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which was led by the Bush Administration but supported across parties). Somehow basic science conducted at lab benches and engineering projects started in garages produce new knowledge products that spark new industries like biotechnology and information technology which give the United States a real competitive edge in the global marketplace. This innovation process is not yet well understood but is a central concern across social sciences including sociology, economics, psychology, and science policy studies. The importance of better understanding the innovation process (in order to facilitate it) has generated the new interdisciplinary area called the science of science and innovation policy (SciSIP). This program at NSF is funding research to scientifically understand the innovation process and which policies are more effective at producing beneficial outcomes in science and technology.

NSF is unique in combining experts from the social sciences with experts in natural sciences and engineering. For example, social scientists and chemists in Massachusetts (and other states) have received grants in a collaborative initiative at NSF between SciSIP (in Social/Behavioral/ Economic Sciences directorate) and Chemistry (in Math/Physical Sciences directorate). An article in this week?s Chemical and Engineering News ('Measuring Chemistry's Impact') announces the initiative and its importance to understanding the chemical sciences. This initiative 'Pathways to Innovation in the Chemical Sciences' would not have been possible if social sciences were not part of NSF. More information about this initiative and others in the study of innovation and science policy can be found at the following website: (

The integration of all the basic sciences at the NSF represents one of the national treasures of the US, which has yielded much competitive advantage. Massachusetts has been at the forefront of this kind of interdisciplinary research, as it has led innovation and science in general.  I urge you to oppose any efforts to weaken that integration, which will be detrimental to our state and our nation.

Laurel Smith-Doerr
Associate Professor of Sociology
Boston University