Budget, Policy, and Substance Frame COSSA Annual Meeting
The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) held its annual meeting in Washington, DC on November 8. Approximately 80 representatives of COSSA members, affiliates, and contributors were present along with more than a sprinkling of others in the social science leadership. With "something for everyone" on the agenda, the meeting provided attendees with a very real sense of the daily work of COSSA on social and behavioral science budgets, research-related policy, and substantive opportunities for research and effective communication about it.
Two high-ranking science leaders addressed the group: Joe Bordogna, Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Alan Leshner, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
For his part, Bordogna signaled that the social and behavioral sciences should have more attention by NSF in the years ahead. "We are and always will be a 'social' universe," he said. He noted that social science has an "underfunded infrastructure." Consistent with NSF's priorities, he emphasized that science funding and research must proceed collaboratively so that connections and crossovers across all fields of science are drawn. Seemingly less well-briefed on the payoffs from social and behavioral science, he cited examples from other fields about the value of NSF investments .
On a substantive note, Bordogna emphasized the importance of research on information technology and on the workforce of the 21st century. He also called for more "sociology of science" to better understand how science, investments in science, and science policy develop and change over time. Why, for example, he asked, is the Federal investment in Research and Development (R&D) at an all time high, but the proportion of the investment in "research" shrinking from "60 percent three decades ago to 25 percent one decade ago?" In terms of basic NSF operations, he said, that "grant size and duration were just too small."
Leshner gave the keynote address at lunch. A psychologist and well-known to many in the audience (Leshner previously held senior posts at NSF and served as Deputy Director and Acting Director of the National Institute of Mental Health), he balanced wit, wisdom, and an exceptional set of color transparencies in an engaging luncheon talk. His message on the science side was direct: NIDA recognizes that a broad-based agenda of basic and applied knowledge is essential to understanding the causes and consequences of drug abuse and the effectiveness of mechanisms of prevention and intervention. Bringing the eye of a researcher to charting NIDA's course, Leshner is committed to investing in science on the biological, behavioral, and social aspects of drug use, to developing scientifically-based treatment, and to getting the knowledge out.
Leshner's pressed the research community to attend to these issues and bring the best work to NIDA. "It's a two-part deal," he said, one that requires NIDA support and research community engagement. Drug use, addiction, prevention, and treatment, he observed, all involve the individual, the family, and society. He emphasized the need for research that addresses each and the relationships among them. His candid advice about the place of social and behavioral science: Never pit biology against behavior, focus on findings not disciplines, and at all cost avoid the term "biopsychosocial."
The three panels were a lively mix as well.
In the midst of continuing resolutions that delayed passage of the 2000 budget until November 19, two key budget staff members (William Hoagland, Senate Budget Committee, and Frank Cushing, House, VA, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee) exposed attendees to a Congressional take on the in-and-outs of the appropriations process, stumbling blocks as they saw them, and the operational meaning of "budget caps." Caught up in the swirl of politics and continuing resolutions, attendees learned more about staff perspectives on the budget process generally than on the funding of science or the social and behavioral sciences specifically.
The panel on information focused on quality data and issues of access for research. Terriann Lowenthal, with the Census 2000 Project, gave an engaging review of the challenges involved in conducting a scientifically sound Census. Citing the American Community Survey, she noted that researchers needed also to pay attention to the development of other U.S. Census-related data and data products. Prudence Adler, with the Association of Research Libraries, spoke about pending database legislation that could hamper scientific research and creativity. She focused specifically on the threats to research and education from HR 354, the Collection of Information Antipiracy Act, and emphasized that the bill could severely limit the use of facts and the combination of data. Mark Frankel, with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, concluded the session. He poignantly captured the saga of the Congressionally mandated revision of Circular A-110 requiring access to data from Federally funded projects. Noting that the final revision by the Office of Management and Budget was generally responsive to the research and academic communities, he emphasized that the issue of data access under A-110 was not yet over. Those not satisfied may litigate, and how it will work in practice remains to be seen.
The final panel focused on youth and youth violence - showing the interplay between the research community, key federal agencies, and public communication. Al Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University and principal investigator of the National Consortium on Violence Research (NCOVR) focused on gun violence among youth, its links to drug markets, and the high risk of violence for African-American males. Al Crosby of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) focused on longitudinal studies undertaken by the CDC that help understand the risk factors for youth and what prevention strategies might work at the family, peer and school, and community levels. Ted Guest, national news editor of U.S. News & World Report and president of the Criminal Justice Network (www.reporters.net/cjj) talked about efforts to effectively use research in journalism and the media's role in giving the news about youth violence.
With a "hot" topic like violence ending the formal agenda and the focus of discussion on how the media communicates events and uses research, the COSSA annual meeting held attendees through the closing session. The American Sociological Association was represented by ASA Executive Officer Felice Levine, who serves as Chair of COSSA's Executive Committee. Other representatives in attendance included Jan Thomas for Sociologists for Women in Society, Mary Pat Baumgartner for the Eastern Sociological Society, and John Michael for the Rural Sociological Society. Sociologist Margaret Zahn represented the American Society of Criminology. Presiding at the meeting was COSSA President Blumstein. He gave well-deserved praise to Howard Silver, Executive Director, for the important role COSSA plays in advancing the interests of the social and behavioral sciences and for COSSA's vigilance in promoting and protecting these fields.