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The Executive Officer’s Column

Membership as a Public Good . . . Continued

This fall ASA membership reached over 13,000, which we hope presages a return to the peak membership years of the 1970s. Even if that is overly optimistic, the engagement of our members in the Association is clear, reflected in an all-time high of over 20,000 ASA Section memberships. While sociology is an exciting and increasingly relevant science and field of practice, we also know the Association is an important a vehicle for the growth and advancement of the discipline and profession.

In my December 2003 Vantage Point column (“Membership as a Public Good”), I provided some highlights from ASA’s recent activities that focus on our relationships at the departmental, local and state levels, as well as those that are national and international. In this continuation of that discussion, I would like to comment from the vantage point of ASA “inside the beltway”—how the location of the Association’s Executive Office in the nation’s capital adds value to the field through your membership by enhancing sociology’s visibility and stature and by protecting social science and scientific values where federal science policy is formed.

On Capitol Hill - Congressional Briefings & the Media

ASA staff work with our members and related scientific associations to organize well-received congressional briefings on Capitol Hill. The most recent brought to the attention of lawmakers and government executives how vital social science research is to understanding, preventing, and responding to disasters (see December 2003 Footnotes). The full-house attendance and insightful audience questions were testament to the event’s success and policymakers’ recognition that sociology has much to contribute to ensuring community safety and well-being during catastrophes.

To increase access to ASA Capitol Hill briefings, we have invoked the power of the web. Summary materials, bibliographies, and other resources provided by ASA members for all the Hill briefings are posted on the ASA website. Hill staff, staff of state and local government leaders, as well as national, regional, and local media researchers regularly surf the web for relevant information. ASA’s website is being improved to better facilitate access to sociological material.

Capitol Hill briefings can only happen occasionally, but important sociological knowledge is published regularly in all ASA journals. ASA routinely highlights on our website, and through direct links to journalists, the scholarship of sociologists published in our journals, presented at our meetings, and in progress by ASA members in a variety of ways that pique the interest of the press. The press requires both long-term proactive and daily reactive attention, and developing congressional briefings are part of our proactive strategy.

Inside the Beltway - Public Policy and Science Policy

ASA has been representing our membership and the social science community generally on the Secretary of Commerce’s Census Advisory Committee for more than a decade to help ensure the scientific quality of the 2000 and 2010 Census and the American Communities Survey. The ASA has an official seat on the Committee (which I fill). ASA members Robert Hill and Corinne Kirchner are also members of this and related Census committees, working to ensure quality data on ethnic and racial minorities and persons with disabilities. Critical issues are arising for the future—such as in what jurisdictions prisoners are counted by the Census for the purposes of reapportionment (rural counties where prisons are often located or urban counties where prisoners’ homes and families are often located). The research of sociologists and demographers needs to be taken account of in the discussions of this highly charged issue on which the Census Advisory Committee is likely to take a position.

ASA’s research staff has been working with the National Science Foundation and the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology to provide current data and sociological research findings for federal efforts to promote the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. ASA is also working to develop bridges across science professions that open career opportunities for sociology graduates.

ASA staff and I met with Thomas Insel, the new director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to discuss the importance of continuing support for social and behavioral basic science at NIMH. We focused on the new workgroup of the National Advisory Mental Health Council to address priority setting for basic sciences in mental health. ASA is also one of the founding professional associations of the National Alliance to Support Sexual Health Research and Policy, started in response to political challenges this summer to the National Institutes of Health’s peer review process that had several ASA members’ research on a congressionally circulated “hit list.” It is important to the social sciences and to public health and family well-being that science in this area is not curtailed by ideology or politics. ASA’s Council and staff have been working with key ASA members and other professional associations to ensure this doesn’t happen. Just this week, the Director of the National Institutes of Health publicly backed the review process and the funding of these specific grants. But this issue isn’t going away.

Scholarship - The sine qua non

Quality scholarship and the accessibility of scholarship are essential for sociology as a discipline to make meaningful contributions to public policy, science policy, and other dimensions of the public good. It is the sine qua non of sociology as a scientific enterprise, and science is the foundation of our claim to expertise.

After considerable discussion with our membership about the need for ASA, as the major scholarly publisher in sociology, to make the content of our journals available and searchable online, ASA has accomplished this for the 2004 volume year of all our journals. Each member subscription to an ASA journal will include both print and online access at no extra charge. Check the ASA website ( to review 2003 sample issues to review the online database of journals.

This electronic access to sociological scholarship (nationally and internationally, in the academy and beyond) is a vital contribution to the field of your ASA membership and participation. Since ASA member journal subscriptions are priced at cost, it is your membership and your participation in the Association’s activities that help ASA support this effort to enhance our discipline and broaden sociology’s contribution to the public good.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer