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Public Affairs Update

  • Changing of the “sociological guard” at NSF . . . . Sociologist Edward J. Hackett, Arizona State University (ASU), will be in a position to influence the direction of social sciences on a national scale as the newly appointed director of the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). His term began in mid-July. He will replace another sociologist, Richard Lempert, the Eric Stein Distinguished University Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Michigan. Hackett, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU, previously served as an NSF program officer, panelist, and principal investigator of several research and training grants. As director of the SES division, Hackett will oversee the NSF unit that supports research in a range of social sciences, including economics, political science, sociology, law and social science, methods and statistics, and studies of science and technology. SES has an annual budget of approximately $100 million to fund basic research in these areas. Hackettís own research and publications have been concerned with the social organization of science, research collaboration, peer review, academic organizations and careers, and environmental justice and stewardship.

  • University of Michigan to continue major survey on older adultsí health, retirement . . . . The National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of 27 research institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has recently renewed its cooperative agreement with the University of Michiganís Institute for Social Research (ISR) to continue the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a major data resource on the combined health and economic conditions of Americans over age 50. The HRS, now in its 14th year, follows more than 20,000 people at two-year intervals, providing data from pre-retirement to advanced age. A major goal of the study is to help address the scientific and policy challenges posed by the nationís aging population. The renewal will provide approximately $70 million in funding over the next six years to continue the study. The U.S. Social Security Administration also will provide funding for such activities as collecting and developing data on pensions and consumption. The HRS paints a detailed portrait over time of older Americansí physical and mental health, insurance coverage, financial well-being, labor market status, retirement planning, support systems, intergenerational transfers of time and money, and living arrangements. Visit for more information about the study as well as an online bibliography of publications using the HRS, user registration, and data links. Sociologist James Jackson, ISRís director, visited Washington, DC, to participate in a public announcement of the award on Capitol Hill. U.S. Rep. John Dingell (MI), NIA Director, John Hodes, and the studyís co-directors were among those who made comments at the event.

  • Well-being of American children has improved generally, except in education . . . . According to the 2006 Child Well-Being Index (CWI), one of the nationís most comprehensive measures of trends in the quality of life of children and youth, reading and math scores for U.S. high schoolers began to decline in the 1990s. Possible culprits include a nationwide shift from phonics to whole language instruction; the lack of resources for handling the influx of English language learners; and the influence of video games and other forms of high-tech entertainment. CWI developer and Duke University sociologist Kenneth Land is particularly troubled by the CWIís 30-year flatline in education, because it appears that the quality of public education is impervious to the many reforms made over that time period. However, the CWI suggests several leading indicators that may predict higher academic performance among U.S. students, citing an increase in nine year oldsí math and reading performance, which corresponds with the dramatic expansion of pre-kindergarten since the mid-1990s. Groups of indicators show improvements in safety, family economic well-being, community connectedness and emotional/spiritual well-being, while there has been a decline in childrenís health and social development. The full report is available at www.soc.duke.edu/~cwi/.

  • Report connects problems inside prison facilities to public health and safety . . . . Violence, poor health care, and inappropriate segregation inside correctional facilities can endanger corrections officers and the public, asserts a report from the Commission on Safety and Abuse in Americaís Prisons, release this summer. Weak oversight, lack of political support for labor and management, and flawed data about intracorrectional violence and abuse were cited in Confronting Confinement. However, the 20-member commission concluded that there are promising practices and strong leadership that contradict the notion that violence and abuse are inevitable behind bars. Among the 30 recommendations are: changing federal law to extend Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement to correctional facilities and ending prisoner co-pays; reducing the use of high-security segregation; developing standardized reporting nationwide on violence and abuse behind bars; and creating an independent agency in every state to oversee prisons and jails. The bipartisan commission visited jails and prisons, consulted with current and former corrections officials and a wide range of experts working outside the profession, and reviewed available research and data. For more information, visit www.prisoncommission.org/report.