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Public Affairs Update

  • Does analysis of personal data strengthen national security? The debate continues and in a recent oversight hearing by the House Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and the Census, presided over by Congressman Adam Putnam (R-FL), members and witnesses discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the potential government access to factual analysis databases. This was a continuation of an early May Subcommittee hearing, which heard from the Total Information Awareness Program and the Transportation Security Administration’s CAPPS II program, an airline passenger prescreening process. With recent advances in technology and database exploration, federal agencies are eager to turn to factual data to assist in national security. The current debate centers on how much access to personal data should the government be allowed and whether this access infringes on individuals’ civil liberties. The expert panel of witnesses on the topics of privacy, confidentiality, and personal freedom included Paul Rosenzweig, Senior Legal Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation; Barry Steinhardt, Technology and Liberty Program Director at the American Civil Liberties Union; and John Cohen, President and CEO of PSCom LLC, Inc. Rosenzweig stressed that it was Congress’s duty to act as the independent reviewer of programs such as CAPPS II, and that it is possible to protect civil liberties and public safety. Steinhardt questioned whether such databases have the potential to be enlarged inappropriately to other areas of society. He also discussed the cost, fairness, and confidentiality. Cohen communicated the need for enforcing a bottom-up program when dealing with law enforcement. For more information, see

  • New Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) announced . . . . The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced the designation and definitions of the new Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in early June. There were 49 new MSAs, bringing the total number to 370. OMB also announced revised definitions of the existing MSAs and designated and defined two new sets of statistical areas: Micropolitan Statistical Areas and Combined Statistical Areas. The lists represent the product of OMB’s once-a-decade (since the 1950 Census) comprehensive review of statistical area standards and definitions. The definition of these statistical areas reflects the technical application of OMB’s Standards for Defining Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas. MSAs are defined as having at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more population, whereas Micropolitan areas have at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 population. The areas are defined according to whole counties. The OMB maintains these definitions solely for statistical purposes. This classification is intended to provide nationally consistent definitions for collecting, tabulating, and publishing federal statistics for a set of geographic areas and not for the purpose of allocating government funds. These definitions, and their changes over time, have significance for social science research. (The new metropolitan areas and further definitions can be found at Go to “Bulletins” under “Information for Agencies.”) The Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics will host a one-day seminar on November 4, 2003, in Alexandria, VA, to assess the impact of the new areas on research and on the public and private sectors (see

  • Sociological science posters on Capitol Hill . . . . As a member of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), the American Sociological Association hosted Douglas Massey (University of Pennsylvania) and Guillermina Jasso (New York University) at the annual CNSF Exhibition & Reception poster session in June. Jasso and Massey presented their NSF-sponsored research, “New Immigrant Survey,” at the event. Sociologist Mansoor Moaddel (Eastern Michigan University) also presented his research, “The Worldviews of Islamic Publics: Democracy, Women, Religion, and the West.” The CNSF Exhibition/Reception is held on Capitol Hill and features about 30 research projects supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year’s event was very successful, attracting nearly 300 people, including several congresspersons and their staff, congressional committee staff, and other top government officials, (e.g., the director of the NSF, White House science advisor’s staff), who discussed the researchers’ work. CNSF (comprised of approximately 80 science organizations) each year advocates for increased funding for NSF from Congress to support the sciences and engineering as well as related education. CNSF is primarily organizations in the life, physical, and social, and behavioral sciences. Two congressmen, the NSF director and deputy director, House Science Committee staff, a veteran Science magazine reporter, and numerous other notables talked at length with the sociologists. For the complete listing of posters see:

  • New NSF initiative in the social and behavioral sciences . . . . In order to increase scientific understanding of human and social functioning and keep pace with advances in other fields, NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) is launching a new priority area, intended to begin in Fiscal Year 2004 and continue for five years. The Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) priority area aims to: Develop and apply multi-scaled, multi-disciplinary approaches to better understand the causes and ramifications of change; increase collective ability to anticipate the complex consequences of change; better understand the dynamics of human behavior and the human mind; increase understanding of the cognitive and social structures that create and define change; and help people and organizations better manage profound or rapid change. For a complete list of the goals and priorities visit and for NSF’s complete explanation of the new area, see HSD has not been guaranteed funding for FY2004. In order to increase the likelihood that HSD receives the $24.5 million requested, the research community needs to actively demonstrate its support for the new priority area. One measure of support will be the interest expressed by the community in applying for research funding from this special program.