July/August 2014 Issue • Volume 42 • Issue 6

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Advocating for Social Science Is a Team Sport

Wendy A. Naus, Consortium of Social Science Associations

I am a little more than halfway through my first year as Executive Director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), having replaced Howard J. Silver, who retired at the end of 2013. As Howard stated in his Footnotes piece in January 2014 (www.asanet.org/footnotes/jan14/cossa_0114.html), COSSA has witnessed a number of “triumphs and difficulties” in its 33-year history. In fact, many of the same challenges that inspired the creation of COSSA in 1981 persist today, whether it is having to justify how or why federally funded social and behavioral science research is in our “national interest,” fending off attacks on individual grants simply because their titles lure additional scrutiny, or beating back attempts to pit fields of research against one another, especially in times of scarce resources. Unfortunately, there will always be policymakers in need of convincing when it comes to the value of social and behavioral science. The best thing we can do as a community is be prepared with the cogent arguments that we all know to be true.

Out of the crises of the recent past (e.g., the so-called Coburn amendment that targeted NSF’s political science program in FY 2013), has blossomed a diverse community willing to go to bat for social and behavioral science funding. Not only has COSSA beefed up its education and outreach efforts to elected officials in recent months, but, more notably, the broader scientific community has been active in defending social science. In recent months, national associations and societies representing broad fields of science, higher education associations, university presidents, corporate heads, and even the National Science Board have all spoken out publicly about the federal government’s necessary role in funding social and behavioral science research. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), to name a few, have been unwavering in their objection to bad policy proposals, such as the FIRST Act (H.R. 4186), which would decimate federal social science funding. 

Making Our Voice Heard

Grassroots engagement has also exploded as a result of recent challenges. COSSA now has the capability to send alerts to members when their action is needed in reaching their elected officials. Nearly 4,000 communications have been sent to Capitol Hill in the first five months of 2014 stemming from COSSA action alerts, urging Members of Congress to support social and behavioral science funding in both appropriations and authorizing bills.

Don’t get me wrong—considerable challenges still lie ahead. Assuming social science programs across federal agencies make it through the fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations process unscathed, which is hardly a certainty, calendar year 2015 promises to bring a new set of potential hurdles. First, the new 114th Congress will be seated in January, bringing a throng of newly elected policy makers to Washington who we will need to educate about our science. Second, with the Senate within reach of a Republican-takeover next year, we are left with even more question marks when trying to anticipate our cast of characters in 2015, as is the case when any house of Congress flips. Further, an unfortunate certainty is the loss next year of key Congressional science champions, including Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Lastly, while sequestration was avoided for FY 2014 and 2015 thanks to the bipartisan budget agreement brokered in late 2013, it is scheduled to return in FY 2016, which will undoubtedly reignite the partisan battles over spending that have all but paralyzed Congress in recent years unless additional steps are taken. This is the backdrop for our advocacy in 2015, further solidifying the need for all community partners to join the conversation in support of social and behavioral science funding. 

Looking to the Future

The challenge to our community as we look to the future will be balancing the need to stay proactive in our outreach and advocacy while playing defense as discrete attacks arise. We have to resist the urge to be lured in by negative rhetoric that is often spun about social science and instead shift the conversation and advocate for social and behavioral science on our terms.

Despite the recent challenges of late and any that may lie ahead, I am encouraged about the social science community’s collective efforts to promote the value of social and behavioral science in meeting challenges of national importance. We are grateful to ASA for its ongoing support as a COSSA Governing Member and look forward to engaging with you all as we chart a path forward for impactful social and behavioral science advocacy. You can stay informed of COSSA’s activities by subscribing to the COSSA Washington Update (www.cossa.org/communication/update.shtml), following us on Twitter (@COSSADC), and liking us on Facebook (SocialScienceAssociations).

The true value of COSSA is the opportunity for what may otherwise be dispersed disciplines to come together for a common cause to pursue shared goals. I’m thrilled to be part of the team.

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