Arquivo da tag: Ciências sociais

The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter (Politico Magazine)

And it’s not gender, age, income, race or religion.

1/17/2016

 

If I asked you what most defines Donald Trump supporters, what would you say? They’re white? They’re poor? They’re uneducated?

You’d be wrong.

In fact, I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.

That’s right, Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow.

My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted in the last five days of December under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sampling 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. Running a standard statistical analysis, I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.

Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.

Not all authoritarians are Republicans by any means; in national surveys since 1992, many authoritarians have also self-identified as independents and Democrats. And in the 2008 Democratic primary, the political scientist Marc Hetherington found that authoritarianism mattered more than income, ideology, gender, age and education in predicting whether voters preferred Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. But Hetherington has also found, based on 14 years of polling, that authoritarians have steadily moved from the Democratic to the Republican Party over time. He hypothesizes that the trend began decades ago, as Democrats embraced civil rights, gay rights, employment protections and other political positions valuing freedom and equality. In my poll results, authoritarianism was not a statistically significant factor in the Democratic primary race, at least not so far, but it does appear to be playing an important role on the Republican side. Indeed, 49 percent of likely Republican primary voters I surveyed score in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale—more than twice as many as Democratic voters.

Political pollsters have missed this key component of Trump’s support because they simply don’t include questions about authoritarianism in their polls. In addition to the typical battery of demographic, horse race, thermometer-scale and policy questions, my poll asked a set of four simple survey questions that political scientists have employed since 1992 to measure inclination toward authoritarianism. These questions pertain to child-rearing: whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian.

Based on these questions, Trump was the only candidate—Republican or Democrat—whose support among authoritarians was statistically significant.

So what does this mean for the election? It doesn’t just help us understand what motivates Trump’s backers—it suggests that his support isn’t capped. In a statistical analysis of the polling results, I found that Trump has already captured 43 percent of Republican primary voters who are strong authoritarians, and 37 percent of Republican authoritarians overall. A majority of Republican authoritarians in my poll also strongly supported Trump’s proposals to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, prohibit Muslims from entering the United States, shutter mosques and establish a nationwide database that track Muslims.

And in a general election, Trump’s strongman rhetoric will surely appeal to some of the 39 percent of independents in my poll who identify as authoritarians and the 17 percent of self-identified Democrats who are strong authoritarians.

What’s more, the number of Americans worried about the threat of terrorism is growing. In 2011, Hetherington published research finding that non-authoritarians respond to the perception of threat by behaving more like authoritarians. More fear and more threats—of the kind we’ve seen recently in the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks—mean more voters are susceptible to Trump’s message about protecting Americans. In my survey, 52 percent of those voters expressing the most fear that another terrorist attack will occur in the United States in the next 12 months were non-authoritarians—ripe targets for Trump’s message.

Take activated authoritarians from across the partisan spectrum and the growing cadre of threatened non-authoritarians, then add them to the base of Republican general election voters, and the potential electoral path to a Trump presidency becomes clearer.

So, those who say a Trump presidency “can’t happen here” should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions—from the Republican Party to the press—that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.

It is time for those who would appeal to our better angels to take his insurgency seriously and stop dismissing his supporters as a small band of the dispossessed. Trump support is firmly rooted in American authoritarianism and, once awakened, it is a force to be reckoned with. That means it’s also time for political pollsters to take authoritarianism seriously and begin measuring it in their polls.

Matthew MacWilliams is founder of MacWilliams Sanders, a political communications firms, and a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he is writing his dissertation about authoritarianism.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/donald-trump-2016-authoritarian-213533#ixzz3xj06TM2n

Anúncios

Humanities research is groundbreaking, life-changing… and ignored (The Guardian)

Humanities scholars are making strides in sectors from sustainability to robotics – why are so few people aware of their work?

Philosopher Don Howard worked with computer scientists on the ethics of ‘human-robot interaction’.

Philosopher Don Howard worked with computer scientists on the ethics of ‘human-robot interaction’. Photograph: Alamy

Deep in the corridors of Stanford University’s English department, graduate student Jodie Archer developed a computer model that can predict New York Times bestsellers. Her soon-to-be published research landed her a top job with Apple iBooks and may revolutionise the publishing industry. At the University of Notre Dame, philosopher Don Howard worked with a computer scientist to develop a code of ethics for “human-robot interaction” that could change the way Silicon Valley designs robots.

Both scholars share an academic background in humanities. And they join countless others working in fields such as technology, environmental sustainability and even infectious disease control.

But humanities is experiencing a crisis. Public support has dwindled. Enrolment in humanities majors is down and courses are disappearing from university curricula. A tightening job market means more humanities PhDs than ever are looking for – and not finding – jobs outside of academia.

In theory, our society cherishes the humanities – the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is even being celebrated with a ceremony at the White House. In its years, the NEH has awarded more than $5bn (£3.2m) in grants to promote innovative research and cultural projects, such as the development of a database to track the transatlantic slave trade and the preservation and publication of the Dead Sea scrolls.

Even so, congressional support for the humanities has plummeted along with federal, state and private funding. Adjusted for inflation, the current $146m budget for the NEH represents just half of its expenditure in 1980.

Part of the issue is an image problem around the impact of humanities research on the wider world. The public should know about Priscilla Wald, an English professor at Duke University, whose explanation of the “outbreak narrative” of contagion is changing the way scientists think about the spread of infectious diseases. They should know about environmental humanities professor Joni Adamson, who is applying the study of indigenous cultures to make desert cities into more sustainable ecosystems.

Most arguments for “saving” the humanities focus on the fact that employers prize the critical thinking and communication skills that undergraduate students develop. Although that may be true, such arguments highlight the value of classroom study, not the value of research.

But humanities research teaches us about the world beyond the classroom, and beyond a job. Humanities scholars explore ethical issues, and discover how the past informs the present and the future. Researchers delve into the discourses that construct gender, race, and class. We learn to decode the images that surround us; to understand and use the language necessary to navigate a complex and rapidly shifting world.

The academy itself is partly to blame for this image problem. The inward-focused nature of scholarship has left the public with no choice but to respond to our work with indifference and even disdain, because we have made little effort to demonstrate what purpose our work may have beyond the lecture hall or academic journal.

The traditional academic model does not reward public humanities scholarship. Rather, humanities scholars are saddled with the expectation of producing peer-reviewed articles and monographs published by university presses for tenure and promotion. This antiquated system encourages scholars to write and speak only for an audience of peers, keeping graduate students from branching away from the proto-book dissertation model and faculty from exploring popular venues for their work.

The potential applications of this type of research are endless – the examples above are the just the tip of the iceberg. And more employers need to see that such research has wide application outside of the academy. The American Council of Learned Societies Public Fellows programme is helping to facilitate this process by placing humanities PhDs in high-profile positions in government and non-profit organisations such as the US department of state, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign.

Humanities scholars need to take what feels – right now – like a risk, and engage in more public scholarship. After all, we are the best qualified to talk about our own work. And we need our chairs, our deans and our provosts to afford us the support and incentives to do so.

The payoff will not only be in increased visibility and perceived value for humanities research, but the opportunity to make an impact that is much greater than that offered by the solitary scholar model.

Hardly the soft sciences (The Hindu)

ROHAN D’SOUZA

June 10, 2015

The social sciences and humanities will be critical in helping us understand what the sciences will become in the future

DISMANTLING THE OLD:“There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in India’s university leadership.” Picture shows graduation day in the University of Hyderabad.— PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

DISMANTLING THE OLD:“There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in India’s university leadership.” Picture shows graduation day in the University of Hyderabad.— PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Common sense has defeated the social sciences and humanities in India. As the rush for college seats begin, parents worry if there are any viable options outside of medicine, engineering, management or studying abroad. What good would a B.A. in history or sociology do other than a roll-of-the-dice chance at the civil services? As a historian, I have often faced blunt questions: what can a job prospect possibly be if you spend three/four years learning the causes of Mughal decline or the Permanent Settlement of 1793? This ably describes why most people see the social sciences, with the exception of economics, as a losing proposition. But has the tide begun to turn?

One of the most significant bursts of funding in the social sciences and the humanities occurred during the Cold War years. The United States, keen as it was then to establish spheres of influence, invested heavily to learn about how societies understood themselves and which ideology appealed to what individual. The money ran into hundreds of millions of dollars with the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York pulling funds from deep pockets. The Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies were other key players who helped sponsor innumerable workshops, conferences and academic seminars. These efforts resulted not only in a vast number of publications, but helped develop many enduring concepts which arguably continue to explain the world we live in. Scores of scholars, research communities and university departments, in being caught up in strategic concerns, ended up harnessing the social sciences and humanities to understand how nations and societies dealt with authority, ideologies, politics and power. Hardly the ‘soft sciences’!

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding for the Area Studies expectedly dried up. On the other hand, academic explorations under the rubrics of nation-making, democracy, globalisation and multiculturalism could hardly wield the previous heft.

In a study published in Research Trends (2013), Gali Halevi and Judit Bar-Ilanit point out that globally the financing for humanities sharply fell between 2009 and 2012. In part, while the 2008 financial crisis could be blamed for the sudden yanking of the proverbial rug, the loss in the lustre of the social sciences had already begun by the mid-1990s following the steady commercialisation of education. Unsurprisingly, student debt and education loans fell harder on those in the social sciences, arts and humanities than they did on those pursuing vocational skills such as engineering. At heart, however, this big turn against the ‘soft sciences’ was what Bill Reading described, in his classic The University in Ruins (1996), as the sustained attempt to transform the university from previously serving as an “ideological arm of the nation-state” to instead now being redesigned as a “consumer oriented corporation”. By morphing the citizen-student into a consumer-student (weighed in by debt), the actual rout of the social sciences was announced.

Reduced funding

It is amidst the aftershocks of this change in the meaning of education that we should make sense of Ella Delany’s startling report in The New York Times (December, 2013) in which she catalogues a growing disquiet against the humanities and social sciences. In 2012, a task force convened by Governor Rick Scott of Florida recommended that students majoring in liberal arts and social science subjects be made to pay higher tuition fees as they were in “nonstrategic disciplines”. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 “reprioritised” 103 million Australian dollars from research in the humanities into medical research. In Britain, Robin Jackson, chief executive of the British Academy for the humanities and social sciences, in 2011 announced that direct government funding for humanities had been withdrawn and was to be replaced by tuition fees “backed up by government loans”.

Is this total defeat? Ironically, just as the social sciences and the humanities are being written off in many countries, there have emerged vigorous calls for resituating its importance. Notably, climate change research and global environmental change programmes the world over are stridently advocating for what they term as the urgent need for “integrated analyses”. It is imperative, they argue, that the natural sciences be drawn into productive dialogues with the social sciences in order to explore critical themes such as global sustainability and green development.

One of the most significant international science initiatives in recent times called the Future Earth has, in fact, in their ‘Strategic Research Agenda’ (2014) urged for initiating a new generation in interdisciplinary and integrated research which can grapple with the realities of a warming planet. The initiative, however, is not entirely novel. For decades now, interdisciplinary efforts such as science studies, environmental history and full-fledged post graduate programmes under the rubric of science-technology-environment-medicine (STEM) have successfully broken down the hard divides between the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. These interdisciplinary initiatives have also compellingly revealed that the natural sciences are ideologically driven and are often oriented by political practice. In effect, the social sciences and humanities will be critical to help us understand what the sciences will become in the future. Significantly, given that an entirely new script for economic behaviour is being drafted in the context of climate change, these conversations have acquired pressing strategic consequences for the developing world.

The Indian scenario

The university system in India is, unfortunately, ill-prepared to take up these challenges. In part, it has put all its research and teaching eggs on the vice-chancellor system for administering higher education. The vice-chancellorship, as an organisational logic, is an ailing legacy and remains a bad marriage between the Mughal Jagirdari system and the rigidity of the British colonial bureaucracy. The higher you go up the administrative ladder, there is less transparency, accountability and intellectual oxygen.

There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in our university leadership, with fresh blood and new ideas brought in with rigorous metrics to judge the performance and contributions at the very top of the administrative chain. If the social sciences and the humanities in India are to be cutting edge by providing knowledge for the future, then the old has to be entirely dismantled.

(Rohan D’Souza is associate professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University.)

The natural sciences should be drawn into dialogues with the social sciences to explore critical themes such as global sustainability

Ethnography: A Scientist Discovers the Value of the Social Sciences (The Scholarly Kitchen)

 

Picture from an early ethnographic study

I have always liked to think of myself as a good listener. Whether you are in therapy (or should be), conversing with colleagues, working with customers, embarking on strategic planning, or collaborating on a task, a dose of emotional intelligence – that is, embracing patience and the willingness to listen — is essential.

At the American Mathematical Society, we recently embarked on ambitious strategic planning effort across the organization. On the publishing side we have a number of electronic products, pushing us to consider how we position these products for the next generation of mathematician. We quickly realized that it is easy to be complacent. In our case we have a rich history online, and yet – have we really moved with the times? Does a young mathematician need our products?

We came to a sobering and rather exciting realization: In fact, we do not have a clear idea how mathematicians use online resources to do their research, teaching, hiring, and job hunting. We of course have opinions, but these are not informed by anything other than anecdotal evidence from conversations here and there.

To gain a sense of how mathematicians are using online resources, we embarked on an effort to gather more systematic intelligence embracing a qualitative approach to the research – ethhnography. The concept of ethnographic qualitative research was a new one to me – and it felt right. I quickly felt like I was back in school and a graduate student in ethnography, reading the literature, and thinking through with colleagues how we might apply qualitative research methods to understanding mathematicians’ behavior. It is worth taking a look at two excellent books: Just Enough Research by Erika Hall, and Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector by Sam Ladner.

What do we mean by ethnographic research? In essence we are talking about a rich, multi-factorial descriptive approach. While quantitative research uses pre-existing categories in its analysis, qualitative research is open to new ways of categorizing data – in this case, mathematicians’ behavior in using information. The idea is that one observes the subject (“key informant” in technical jargon) in their natural habitat. Imagine you are David Attenborough, exploring an “absolutely marvelous” new species – the mathematician – as they operate in the field. The concept is really quite simple. You just want to understand what your key informants are doing, and preferably why they are doing it. One has to do it in a setting that allows for them to behave naturally – this really requires an interview with one person not a group (because group members may influence each other’s actions).

Perhaps the hardest part is the interview itself. If you are anything like me, you will go charging in saying something along the lines of “look at these great things we are doing. What do you think? Great right?” Well, of course this is plain wrong. While you have a goal going in, perhaps to see how an individual is behaving with respect to a specific product, your questions need to be agnostic in flavor. The idea is to have the key informant do what they normally do, not just say what they think they do – the two things may be quite different. The questions need to be carefully crafted so as not to lead, but to enable gentle probing and discussion as the interview progresses. It is a good idea to record the interview – both in audio form, and ideally with screen capture technology such as Camtasia. When I was involved with this I went out and bought a good, but inexpensive audio recorder.

We decided that rather than approach mathematicians directly, we should work with the library at an academic institution. Libraries are our customers. The remarkable thing about academic libraries is that ethnography is becoming part of the service they provide to their stakeholders at many institutions. We actually began with a remarkable librarian, based at Rice University – Debra Kolah. She is the head of the user experience office at the Fondren Library of Rice University in Texas. She also happens to be the physics, math and statistics librarian at Rice. Debra is remarkable, and has become an expert in ethnographic study of academic user experience. She has multiple projects underway at Rice, working with a range of stakeholders, aiming to foster the activity of the library in the academic community she directly serves. She is a picture of enthusiasm when it comes to serving her community and to gaining insights into the cultural patterns of academic user behavior. Debra was our key to understanding how important it is to work with the library to reach the mathematical community at an institution. The relationship is trusted and symbiotic. This triangle of an institution’s library, academic, and outside entity, such as a society, or publisher, may represent the future of the library.

So the interviews are done – then what? Analysis. You have to try to make sense of all of this material you’ve gathered. First, transcribing audio interviews is no easy task. You have a range of voices and much technical jargon. The best bet is to get one of the many services out there to take the files and do a first pass transcription. They will get most of it right. Perhaps they will write “archive instead of arXiv, but that can be dealt with later. Once you have all this interview text, you need to group it into meaningful categories – what’s called “coding”. The idea is that you try to look at the material with a fresh, unbiased eye, to see what themes emerge from the data. Once these themes are coded, you can then start to think about patterns in the data. Interestingly, qualitative researchers have developed a host of software programs to aid the researcher in doing this. We settled for a relatively simple, web based solution – Dedoose.

With some 62 interviews under our belt, we are beginning to see patterns emerge in the ways that mathematicians behave online. I am not going to reveal our preliminary findings here – I must save that up for when the full results are in – but I am confident that the results will show a number of consistent threads that will help us think through how to better serve our community.

In summary, this experience has been a fascinating one – a new world for me. I have been trained as a scientist. As a scientist, I have ideas about what scientific method is, and what evidence is. I now understand the value of the qualitative approach – hard for a scientist to say. Qualitative research opens a window to descriptive data and analysis. As our markets change, understanding who constitutes our market, and how users behave is more important than ever.

Carry on listening!

Climate change: Embed the social sciences in climate policy (Nature)

David Victor

01 April 2015

David G. Victor calls for the IPCC process to be extended to include insights into controversial social and behavioural issues.

Illustration by David Parkins

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is becoming irrelevant to climate policy. By seeking consensus and avoiding controversy, the organization is suffering from the streetlight effect — focusing ever more attention on a well-lit pool of the brightest climate science. But the insights that matter are out in the darkness, far from the places that the natural sciences alone can illuminate.

With the ink barely dry on the IPCC’s latest reports, scientists and governments are planning reforms for the next big assessment12. Streamlining the review and writing processes could, indeed, make the IPCC more nimble and relevant. But decisions made at February’s IPCC meeting in Nairobi showed that governments have little appetite for change.

The basic report-making process and timing will remain intact. Minor adjustments such as greater coverage of cross-cutting topics and more administration may make the IPCC slower. Similar soul searching, disagreement, indecision and trivial procedural tweaks have followed each of the five IPCC assessments over the past 25 years3.

This time needs to be different. The IPCC must overhaul how it engages with the social sciences in particular (see go.nature.com/vp7zgm). Fields such as sociology, political science and anthropology are central to understanding how people and societies comprehend and respond to environmental changes, and are pivotal in making effective policies to cut emissions and collaborate across the globe.

The IPCC has engaged only a narrow slice of social-sciences disciplines. Just one branch — economics — has had a major voice in the assessment process. In Working Group III, which assesses climate-change mitigation and policy, nearly two-thirds of 35 coordinating lead authors hailed from the field, and from resource economics in particular. The other social sciences were mostly absent. There was one political scientist: me. Among the few bright spots in that report compared with earlier ones is greater coverage of behavioural economics and risk analysis. In Working Group II, which assesses impacts and adaptation, less than one-third of the 64 coordinating lead authors were social scientists, and about half of those were economists.

Bringing the broader social sciences into the IPCC will be difficult, but it is achievable with a strategy that reflects how the fields are organized and which policy-relevant questions these disciplines know well. It will require big reforms in the IPCC, and the panel will have to relinquish part of the assessment process to other organizations that are less prone to paralysis in the face of controversy.

Tunnel vision

The IPCC walks a wavering line between science, which requires independence, and diplomacy, which demands responsiveness to government preference. Although scientists supply and hone the material for reports, governments have a say in all stages of assessment: they adopt the outline for each chapter, review drafts and approve the final reports.

“Insights such as which policies work (or fail) in practice are skirted.”

Such tight oversight creates incentives for scientists to stick to the agreed scope and strip out controversial topics. These pressures are especially acute in the social sciences because governments want to control statements about social behaviour, which implicate policy. This domain covers questions such as which countries will bear the costs of climate change; schemes for allocating the burden of cutting emissions; the design of international agreements; how voters respond to information about climate policy; and whether countries will go to war over climate-related stress. The social sciences can help to provide answers to these questions, key for effective climate policy. In practice, few of these insights are explored much by the IPCC.

The narrowness of what governments will allow the IPCC to publish is particularly evident in the summary for policy-makers produced at the end of each assessment. Governments approve this document line-by-line with consensus. Disagreements range from those over how to phrase concepts such as a ‘global commons’ that requires collective action to those about whole graphs, which might present data in ways that some governments find inconvenient.

For example, during the approval of the summary from Working Group III last April, a small group of nations vetoed graphs that showed countries’ emissions grouped according to economic growth. Although this format is good science — economic growth is the main driver of emissions — it is politically toxic because it could imply that some countries that are developing rapidly need to do more to control emissions4.

Context dependent

The big problem with the IPCC’s output is not the widely levelled charge that it has become too policy prescriptive or is captivated by special interests5. Its main affliction is pabulum — a surfeit of bland statements that have no practical value for policy. Abstract, global numbers from stylized, replicable models get approved because they do not implicate any country or action. Insights such as which policies work (or fail) in practice are skirted. Caveats are buried or mangled.

Readers of the Working Group III summary for policy-makers might learn, for instance, that annual economic growth might decrease by just 0.06 percentage points by 2050 if governments were to adopt policies that cut emissions in line with the widely discussed goal of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels6. They would have to wade through dense tables to realize that only a fraction of the models say that the goal is achievable, and through the main report to learn that the small cost arises only under simplified assumptions that are far from messy reality.

Source: Ref. 6

That said, the social sciences are equally culpable. Because societies are complex and are in many ways harder to study than cells in a petri dish, the intellectual paradigms across most of the social sciences are weak. Beyond a few exceptions — such as mainstream economics — the major debates in social science are between paradigms rather than within them.

Consider the role of international law. Some social scientists treat law like a contract; others believe that it works mainly through social pressures. The first set would advise policy-makers to word climate deals precisely — to include targets and timetables for emissions cuts — and to apply mechanisms to ensure that countries honour their agreements. The second group would favour bold legal norms with clear focal points — striving for zero net emissions, for example7. Each approach could be useful in the right context.

Multiple competing paradigms make it hard to organize social-science knowledge or to determine which questions and methods are legitimate. Moreover, the incentives within the social sciences discourage focusing on particular substantive topics such as climate change — especially when they require interdisciplinary collaboration. In political science, for example, research on political mobilization, administrative control and international cooperation among other specialities are relevant. Yet no leading political-science department has a tenured professor who works mainly on climate change8.

The paradigm problem need not be paralysing. Social scientists should articulate why different intellectual perspectives and contexts lead to different conclusions. Leading researchers in each area can map out disagreement points and their relevance.

Climate scientists and policy-makers should talk more about how disputes are rooted in different values and assumptions — such as about whether government institutions are capable of directing mitigation. Such disputes help to explain why there are so many disagreements in climate policy, even in areas in which the facts seem clear9.

Unfortunately, the current IPCC report structure discourages that kind of candour about assumptions, values and paradigms. It focuses on known knowns and known unknowns rather than on deeper and wider uncertainties. The bias is revealed in how the organization uses official language to describe findings — half of the statements in the Working Group III summary were given a ‘high confidence’ rating (see ‘Confidence bias’).

Wider vista

Building the social sciences into the IPCC and the climate-change debate more generally is feasible over the next assessment cycle, which starts in October and runs to 2022, with efforts on the following three fronts.

First, the IPCC must ask questions that social scientists can answer. If the panel looks to the social-sciences literature on climate change, it will find little. But if it engages the fields on their own terms it will find a wealth of relevant knowledge — for example, about how societies organize, how individuals and groups perceive threats and respond to catastrophic stresses, and how collective action works best.

Dieter Telemans/Panos

The solar-powered Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India, trains rural villagers in how to install, build and repair solar technologies.

As soon as the new IPCC leadership is chosen later this year, the team should invite major social-sciences societies such as the American Political Science Association, the American and European societies of international law, the American Sociological Association and the Society for Risk Analysis to propose relevant topics that they can assess and questions they can answer. Multidisciplinary scientific organizations in diverse countries — such as the Royal Society in London and the Third World Academy of Sciences — would round out the picture, because social-sciences societies tend to be national and heavily US-based.

These questions should guide how the IPCC scopes its next reports. The agency should also ask such societies to organize what they know about climate by discipline — how sociology examines issues related to the topic, for example — and feed that into the assessment.

Second, the IPCC must become a more attractive place for social-science and humanities scholars who are not usually involved in the climate field and might find IPCC involvement daunting. The IPCC process is dominated by insiders who move from assessment to assessment and are tolerant of the crushing rounds of review and layers of oversight that consume hundreds of hours and require travel to the corners of the globe. Practically nothing else in science service has such a high ratio of input to output. The IPCC must use volunteers’ time more efficiently.

Third, all parties must recognize that a consensus process cannot handle controversial topics such as how best to design international agreements or how to govern the use of geoengineering technologies. For these, a parallel process will be needed to address the most controversial policy-relevant questions.

This supporting process should begin with a small list of the most important questions that the IPCC cannot handle on its own. A network of science academies or foundations sympathetic to the UN’s mission could organize short reports — drawing from IPCC assessments and other literature — and manage a review process that is truly independent of government meddling. Oversight from prominent social scientists, including those drawn from the IPCC process, could give the effort credibility as well as the right links to the IPCC itself.

The list of topics to cover in this parallel mechanism includes how to group countries in international agreements — beyond the crude kettling adopted in 1992 that split the world into industrialized nations and the rest. The list also includes which kinds of policies have had the biggest impact on emissions, and how different concepts of justice and ethics could guide new international agreements that balance the burdens of mitigation and adaptation. There will also need to be a sober re-assessment of policy goals when it becomes clear that stopping warming at 2 °C is no longer feasible10.

The IPCC has proved to be important — it is the most legitimate body that assesses the climate-related sciences. But it is too narrow and must not monopolize climate assessment. Helping the organization to reform itself while moving contentious work into other forums is long overdue.

Nature 520, 27–29 (02 April 2015), doi:10.1038/520027a

References

  1. IPCC. Future Work of the IPCC: Chairman’s Vision Paper on the Future of the IPCC (IPCC, 2015).
  2. IPCC. Future Work of the IPCC: Consideration of the Recommendations by the Task Group on Future Work of the IPCC (IPCC, 2015).
  3. Committee to Review the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeClimate Change Assessments: Review of the Processes and Procedures of the IPCC (InterAcademy Council, 2010).
  4. Victor, D. G.Gerlagh, R. & Baiocchi, G. Science 3453436 (2014).
  5. Hulme, M. et alNature 463730732 (2010).
  6. IPCCSummary for Policymakers in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
  7. Hafner-Burton, E. M.Victor, D. G. & Lupu, Y. Am. J. Intl Law 1064797 (2012).
  8. Keohane, R. O. PS: Political Sci. & Politics 481926 (2015).
  9. Hulme, M. Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).
  10. Victor, D. G. & Kennel C. F. Nature 5143031 (2014).

Clive Hamilton: Climate change signals the end of the social sciences (The Conversation)

January 24 2013, 7.24pm
Clive Hamilton

Our impact on the earth has brought on a new geographical epoch – The Age of Humans.AAP/Damien Shaw

In response to the heatwave that set a new Australia-wide record on 7 January, when the national average maximum reached 40.33°C, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a statement that, on reflection, sounds the death knell for all of the social sciences taught in our universities.

“Everything that happens in the climate system now”, the manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau said, “is taking place on a planet which is a degree hotter than it used to be.”

Eminent US climate scientist, Kevin Trenberth, made the same point more fully last year:

The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.

Trenberth’s commentary calls on us to reframe how we think about human-induced climate change. We can no longer place some events into the box marked “Nature” and some into the box marked “Human”.

The invention of these two boxes was the defining feature of modernity, an idea founded on Cartesian and Kantianphilosophies of the subject. Its emergence has also been tracked by science studies in the contradiction between purified science and the messy process of knowledge creation, leading to Bruno Latour’s troubling claim that the separation of Human and Nature was an illusion, and that “we have never been modern”.

Climate science is now telling us that such a separation can no longer be sustained, that the natural and the human are mixed up, and their influences cannot be neatly distinguished.

This human-nature hybrid is true not just of the climate system, but of the planet as a whole, although it would be enough for it to be true of the climate system. We know from the new discipline of Earth system science that changes in the atmosphere affect not just the weather but the Earth’s hydrosphere (the watery parts), the biosphere (living creatures) and even the lithosphere (the Earth’s crust). They are all linked by the great natural cycles and processes that make the planet so dynamic. In short, everything is in play.

Apart from climatic change, it is apparent that human activity has transformed the Earth in profound ways. Every cubic metre of air and water, every hectare of land now has a human imprint, from hormones in the seas, to fluorocarbons in the atmosphere and radioactivity from nuclear weapons tests in the soil.

Each year humans shift ten times more rock and soil around the Earth than the great natural processes of erosion and weathering. Half of the land surface has been modified by humans. Dam-building since the 1930s has held back enough water to keep the oceans three centimetres lower than otherwise. Extinctions are now occurring at a rate 100 times faster than the natural one.

So profound has been the influence of humans that Earth scientists such as Will Steffen have recently declared that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch, an epoch defined by the fact that the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system”. Known as the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans, it marks the end of the Holocene, the 10,000-year period of remarkable climatic stability and clemency that allowed civilisation to flourish.

The modern social sciences — sociology, psychology, political science, economics, history and, we may add, philosophy — rest on the assumption that the grand and the humdrum events of human life take place against a backdrop of an inert nature. Only humans have agency. Everything worthy of analysis occurs in the sealed world of “the social”, and where nature does make itself felt – in environmental history, sociology or politics – “the environment” is the Umwelt, the natural world “over there” that surrounds us and sometimes intrudes on our plans, but always remains separate.

What was distinctive of the “social sciences” that emerged in 18th-century Europe was not so much their aspiration to science but their “social-only” domain of concern.

So the advent of the Anthropocene shatters the self-contained world of social analysis that is the terrain of modern social science, and explains why those intellectuals who remain within it find it impossible to “analyze” the politics, sociology or philosophy of climate change in a way that is true to the science. They end up floundering in the old categories, unable to see that something epochal has occurred, a rupture on the scale of the Industrial Revolution or the emergence of civilization itself.

A few are trying to peer through the fog of modernism. In an epoch-marking intervention, Chicago historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued that the distinction we have drawn between natural history and human history has now collapsed. With the arrival of the Anthropocene, humans have become a geological force so that the two kinds of history have converged and it is no longer true that “all history properly so called is the history of human affairs”.

E.H. Carr’s famous definition of history must now be discarded:

History begins when men begin to think of the passage of time in terms not of natural processes — the cycle of the seasons, the human life-span — but of a series of specific events in which men are consciously involved and which they can consciously influence.

From hereon our history will increasingly be dominated by “natural processes”, influenced by us but largely beyond our control. Our future has become entangled with that of the Earth’s geological evolution. As I argue in a forthcoming book, contrary to the modernist faith, it can no longer be maintained that humans make their own history, for the stage on which we make it has now entered into the play as a dynamic and capricious force.

And the actors too must be scrutinised afresh. If on the Anthropocene’s hybrid Earth it is no longer tenable to characterise humans as the rational animal, God’s chosen creatures or just another species, what kind of being are we?

The social sciences taught in our universities must now be classed as “pre-Anthropocene”. The process of reinventing them — so that what is taught in our arts faculties is true to what has emerged in our science faculties — will be a sustained and arduous intellectual enterprise. After all, it was not just the landscape that was scorched by 40.33°C, but modernism itself.

Time for the social sciences (Nature)

Governments that want the natural sciences to deliver more for society need to show greater commitment towards the social sciences and humanities.

30 December 2014

Nature 517, 5 (01 January 2015) doi:10.1038/517005a

Physics, chemistry, biology and the environmental sciences can deliver wonderful solutions to some of the challenges facing individuals and societies, but whether those solutions will gain traction depends on factors beyond their discoverers’ ken. That is sometimes true even when the researchers are aiming directly at the challenge. If social, economic and/or cultural factors are not included in the framing of the questions, a great deal of creativity can be wasted.

This message is not new. Yet it gets painfully learned over and over again, as funders and researchers hoping to make a difference to humanity watch projects fail to do so. This applies as much to business as to philanthropy (ask manufacturers of innovative crops).

All credit, therefore, to those who establish multidisciplinary projects — for example, towards enhancing access to food and water, in adaptation to climate change, or in tackling illness — and who integrate natural sciences, social sciences and humanities from the outset. The mutual framing of challenges is the surest way to overcome the conceptual diversities and gulfs that can make such collaborations a challenge.

All credit, too, to leading figures in policy who demonstrate their commitment to this multidimensional agenda. And all the more reason for concern when governments show none of the same comprehension.

Such is the case in the United Kingdom. Research-wise, the country is in a state that deserves a bit of attention from others and certainly merits some concern from its own citizens. Its university funders last month announced the results of a unique exercise in nationwide research assessment — the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which will have a major impact on the direction of university funding. Almost simultaneously, its government released a strategy document: ‘Our plan for growth: science and innovation’. And in November, its government’s chief science adviser published a wide-ranging annual report that reflects the spirit of inclusiveness mentioned above. Unfortunately, the government’s strategy does not.

The importance of inclusivity

Whatever the discipline, a sensible research-assessment policy puts a high explicit value both on outstanding discovery and scholarship, and on making a positive impact beyond academia. In that spirit, the REF (www.ref.ac.uk) aggregatedthree discretely documented aspects of the research of each university department: the quality and importance of the department’s academic output, given a 65% weighting in the overall grade; the quality of the research environment (15%); and the reach and significance of its impact beyond academia (20%).

The influences of the data and panel processes that went into the REF results will not be analysed publicly until March. The signs are that the impacts component of assessment has allowed some universities to rise higher up the rankings than they would otherwise. But the full benefits and perverse incentives of the system will take deeper analysis to resolve.

“If you want science to deliver for society, you need to support a capacity to understand that society.”

A remarkable and contentious aspect of UK science policy is the extent to which the REF rankings will determine funding. The trend has been for such exercises to concentrate funding sharply towards the upper tiers of the rankings.

Most important in the current context is whether an over-dependence on funding formulae will undermine the nation’s abilities to meet its future needs. A preliminary analysis by a policy magazine, Research Fortnight, reaches a pessimistic conclusion for those who believe that the social sciences are strategically important: given the REF results, the social sciences will gain a smaller slice of the pie than the size of the community might have suggested. If that reflects underperformance in social science at a national scale, and given the strategic importance of these disciplines, a national ambition in, for example, sociology, anthropology and psychology that reaches beyond the funding formula needs to be energized.

A reader of the government’s science and innovation strategy (go.nature.com/u5xbnx) might reach the same conclusion. Its fundamental message is to be welcomed: understandably focusing on enhancing economic growth, it highlights the need for support of fundamental research, open information, strategic technologies and stimuli for business engagement and investment. But there is just one sentence that deals with the social sciences and humanities: a passing mention in the introduction that they are included whenever the word ‘science’ is used.

Credit to both chief science adviser Mark Walport and his predecessor, John Beddington, for their explicit and proactive engagement with the social sciences. This year’s report, ‘Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it’ (see go.nature.com/lwf1o7), demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity: it is a compendium of opinion and reflection from experts in psychology, behavioural science, statistics, risk, sociology, law, communication and public engagement, as well as natural sciences.

An example of the report’s inclusive merits can be found in the sections on uncertainty, communication, conversations and language, in which heavyweight academics highlight key considerations in dealing with contentious and risk-laden areas of innovation. Case studies relating to nuclear submarines, fracking and flood planning are supplied by professionals and advocates directly involved in the debates. This is complemented by discussions of the human element in estimating risk from the government’s behavioural insights team, as well as discussions of how the contexts of risk-laden decisions play a part. Anyone who has a stake in science or technology that is in the slightest bit publicly contentious will find these sections salutary.

The report’s key message should be salutary for policy-makers worldwide. If you want science to deliver for society, through commerce, government or philanthropy, you need to support a capacity to understand that society that is as deep as your capacity to understand the science. And your policy statements need to show that you believe in that necessity.

Mais Espaço para Ciências Sociais e Humanas (Jornal da Ciência)

Artigo de José Monserrat Filho* comenta editorial publicado na revista Nature

“Olhem para as estrelas e aprendam com elas.”

Albert Einstein

Se os governos desejam que as ciências exatas e naturais levem mais benefícios à sociedade, eles precisam se comprometer mais com as ciências sociais e humanas. Há que integrar todas essas áreas para que as ciências exatas e naturais ofereçam soluções ainda mais abrangentes e completas. Essa, em suma, é a visão defendida pela Nature, renomada revista científica inglesa, em seu editorial Tempo para as Ciências Sociais, de 30 de dezembro de 2014.

Para a Naturea física, a química, a biologia e as ciências ambientais podem oferecer soluções maravilhosas a alguns dos desafios que as pessoas e as sociedades enfrentam, mas para que ganhem força, tais soluções dependem de fatores que vão além do conhecimento de seus descobridores. A publicação argumenta que “se fatores sociais, econômicos e culturais não são incluídos na formulação das questões, grande dose de criatividade pode ser desperdiçada.

Quer dizer, quando não se presta a devida atenção às ciências sociais, corre-se o risco de perder em criatividade (campos e elementos que alimentam a imaginação, a busca de melhores e mais amplas soluções), o que nas atividades cientificas é grave insuficiência.

Nature pede total apoio “a quem cria projetos multidisciplinares – por exemplo, para aumentar o acesso aos alimentos e à água, fazer adaptações às mudanças climáticas, ou tratar de doenças –  integrando, desde o início, as ciências naturais e as ciências sociais e humanas”.

Total apoio também é solicitado “às figuras de proa na política que demonstram seu compromisso com esta agenda multidimensional” e expressam “toda uma série de preocupações quando os governos não manifestam a mesma compreensão”.

A revista elogia Mark Walport, o principal assessor científico do governo inglês, e seu antecessor, John Beddington, por estarem comprometidos com relação as ciências sociais. O relatório do Reino Unido de 2014, sob o título de “Inovação: gestão de risco sem evitá-lo”, reúne opiniões e reflexões de especialistas em psicologia, ciência do comportamento, estatística, estudos de risco, sociologia, direito, comunicação e política pública, bem como em ciências naturais.
O documento inclui temas como incerteza, comunicação, conversações e linguagem, com cientistas reconhecidos tecendo considerações cruciais sobre inovação em áreas controversas e cheias de dúvidas. Cientistas e juristas trabalham juntos, por exemplo, nos estudos de caso sobre submarinos nucleares e sobre previsões de inundação e infiltrações.

O principal recado do relatório vale para os responsáveis pela formulação de políticas de C&T em qualquer país: Se você deseja que a ciência leve benefícios à sociedade, por meio do comércio, do governo ou da filantropia, você precisa apoiar os meios de capacitação para se entender a sociedade, o que é tão profundo quanto a capacidade de entender a ciência. E quando fizer declarações políticas precisa deixar claro que você acredita nessa necessidade.

Será que tudo isso é válido também para a ciência e a tecnologia espaciais?

As atividades espaciais, embora efetuadas com base em conhecimentos científicos e tecnológicos, envolvem interesses sociais, econômicos, políticos, jurídicos e culturais de enorme relevância. O mundo inteiro depende hoje do espaço em sua vida cotidiana. Isso gera um caudal de problemas em todas as áreas. Política e Direito Espaciais são campos estratégicos da política internacional. As ações militares no solo, nos mares e no espaço aéreo são todas comandadas através do espaço, e já se planeja até instalar armas em órbitas da Terra, o que poderá convertê-las em teatro de guerra. Enquanto isso, as Nações Unidas avançam na elaboração das diretrizes para  garantir a “Sustentabilidade a Longo Prazo das Atividades Espaciais”, que também enfrentam o perigo crescente do lixo espacial. Em debate, igualmente, está o desafio de criar um sistema global de gestão do tráfico espacial para garantir maior segurança e proteção de todos os voos e objetos espaciais. Mais que nunca é essencial o maior conhecimento possível de tudo o que se passa e se faz no espaço, perto e longe da Terra. Medidas de transparência e fomento à confiança no espaço são propostas pela Assembleia Geral das Nações Unidas. E quem senão as ciências sociais para refletir sobre o futuro da civilização humana no espaço?

* Vice-Presidente da Associação Brasileira de Direito Aeronáutico e Espacial (SBDA), Diretor Honorário do Instituto Internacional de Direito Espacial, Membro Pleno da Academia Internacional de Astronáutica e Chefe da Assessoria de Cooperação Internacional da Agência Espacial Brasileira (AEB).

Unindo ciências humanas à neurociência (Faperj)

10/07/2014

Vilma Homero

4O filósofo Carlos Eduardo Batista de Sousa: estudos sobre o pensamento humano

O homem é um animal puramente biológico ou um ser sociocultural? A pergunta vem dividindo especialistas das neurociências e das ciências humanas. Especialmente depois que estudos recentes visam identificar as bases neurais que possibilitam ou estão correlacionadas com o pensamento consciente. “A intencionalidade, o conteúdo do pensamento consciente, está associada às nossas ações. E este assunto se relaciona diretamente com o nosso contexto cultural e a nossa época, e com o entendimento sobre nós mesmos. O que significa dizer que a neurociência agora estuda um objeto típico das ciências humanas?”, pergunta o filósofo da ciência Carlos Eduardo Batista de Sousa, que contou com o apoio de um Auxílio à Pesquisa (APQ 1) para estudar as dimensões que compõem a humanidade em projeto intitulado “Intencionalidade e Comportamento: Definindo a Natureza Humana”. Como ele mesmo pondera, é possível formular uma resposta plausível, integrando o conhecimento das duas ciências.  

“Tento acomodar os estudos nesses dois campos, das humanidades e dasneurociências, vendo como a questão da intencionalidade está vinculada à neurobiologia humana e ao aspecto sociocultural”, acrescenta o pesquisador. Ele explica que o tipo de pensamento que o ser humano tem acontece também em virtude de nossa história evolutiva. Ou seja, tanto a nossa neurobiologia quanto as interações sociais, nosso contexto cultural e a época, devem ser considerados na tentativa de entender a natureza humana. Diferentemente dos animais, o ser humano conta com uma estrutura intencional específica: “Pensar implica pensar em alguma coisa, é preciso ter um objeto em mente, ter uma representação desse objeto no pensamento que é sobre algo. De modo bem direto, isso é o que os filósofos descobriram há certo tempo. Esse conteúdo intencional emerge da neurobiologia e da interação social, influenciando nosso comportamento.”

Descobertas recentes das neurociências indicam que o pensamento consciente está associado a certas regiões no cérebro, como o lobo  frontal, que se divide em córtex frontal e pré-frontal. A partir de tecnologias, como neuroimageamento e eletrofisiologia, que nos permitem identificar as áreas e mapear o que acontece durante o pensamento consciente, novos estudos estão se tornando possíveis de ser implementados, como por exemplo, investigar o cérebro em ação. “Mas ainda é prematuro dizer que partes do cérebro são responsáveis por cada coisa”, admite o pesquisador.

Para De Sousa, estudar a natureza humana também implica estudar sua natureza biológica e sociocultural, por meio do trabalho científico e do trabalho crítico de tentar unificar as duas vertentes. “Entender tanto a biologia quanto a cultura a partir do problema da intencionalidade pode unir essas duas áreas aparentemente opostas, e isso significa reconhecer que o pensamento consciente-intencional se baseia na neurobiologia e na interação social, dando origem às nossas ações.

Mas nosso cérebro precisa estar em condições favoráveis, sob a ação de certos hormônios, como a dopamina – relacionada, por exemplo, com à tomada de decisão, cálculo de riscos, etc. Caso haja alguma anomalia no cérebro, a ação será diferente. Isso significa que a biologia precisa ser reconhecida como condição primeira, porém ela não determina o conteúdo, isto é, como vou formar meus pensamentos…”, diz De Sousa.

Como De Sousa faz questão de frisar, apenas uma ciência, seja a neurociência ou a sociologia, não pode garantir explicações plausíveis sobre o comportamento humano. “Em vez de uma briga de conhecimento, como vem sendo vivenciado hoje, é preciso conciliar ciências humanas e neurociências num contexto mais amplo pela integração dos estudos”, destaca De Sousa, que tem formação em filosofia e doutorado na Universidade de Constança, Alemanha. “Em vez de fornecer respostas, a filosofia aponta problema e possíveis caminhos. Minha proposta consiste em acomodar ambas as explicações de forma a dar conta dos vários fatores e aspectos que influenciam o conteúdo do pensamento humano, as intenções que levam o sujeito a agir de determinado modo e não de outro.”

O próximo passo para De Sousa é dar continuidade a seu trabalho, procurando unificar os estudos sobre a natureza humana numa área transdisciplinar, já que o homem é um animal complexo. “Foi na Alemanha que dei início a essa pesquisa, durante o doutorado em neurofilosofia. Lá, esse tipo de pensamento integrador estava começando. Hoje, o assunto já avançou, permitindo um maior entendimento sobre o que nós somos a partir das neurociências e da perspectiva das ciências humanas que tem longa tradição de estudos na área. Sabendo como o cérebro aprende, se organiza e se deteriora, podemos entender por que agimos como agimos e encarar a realidade de outra forma, repensando inclusive o processo de educação. Assim, futuramente, poderemos até propor novas estratégias educacionais levando em consideração esse novo conhecimento. Com isso, poderemos também estabelecer uma nova visão de humanidade, mais completa, que inclua não apenas a neurobiologia, mas também a dimensão sociocultural”, conclui.

Lawmakers aim to restrict US agency’s social-science programmes (Nature)

11 Mar 2014 | 20:53 GMT | Posted by Lauren Morello

Posted on behalf of Jessica Morrison. 

Conservative politicians in the US House of Representatives are renewing their push to limit the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) support for social-science research. The agency’s social, behavioural, and economic (SBE) sciences directorate would see its recommended funding cut by 42%, under a proposal introduced on 10 March by Representative Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas), the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

The legislation, which would reauthorize NSF for fiscal years 2014‒15, also seeks major changes to the peer-review process by which the agency awards its grants. Smith’s plan would require the NSF to provide written justification that every grant it awards — in all fields — is in the “national interest”. That is defined broadly as research that satisfies at least one of six goals: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defence.

Details of Smith’s plan first surfaced about a year ago, sparking fierce criticism from social scientists and the broader US research community that seems sure to renew with the release of the new bill. Smith and his supporters argue that in a time of limited budgets, focusing on research areas that produce the clearest benefits is wise. But critics worry that the “national interest” requirement will hobble NSF’s time-tested peer review process.

“We don’t build rockets. We don’t usually have patentable goods,” says Rick Wilson, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and a former NSF programme director. “For a lot of these folks, it may just be that they really don’t believe that what we do has scientific merit.”

The bill recommends a budget of $7.17 billion for NSF in 2014, the current fiscal year — equal to what the agency actually received in the budget deal enacted in January — and $7.29 billion for 2015. In an unusual move, the proposal also lays out a detailed plan for distributing that cash to NSF’s seven research directorates. For example, it seeks to cap SBE funding at $150 million per year in 2014 and 2015, well below the directorate’s actual 2014 budget of $257 million.

“I don’t understand the antagonism toward the social, behavioral, and economic sciences,” says Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington DC.

Lubell also finds fault with provisos that would restrict principal investigators to no more than five years of funding for a particular project, and allow researchers to include just five citations in grant proposals.

The full text of the bill can be found here. It will receive a public airing on 13 March, when a House subcommittee plans to discuss and vote on the measure.

Linking Social Science, Ecology to Solve the World’s Environmental Problems (Science Daily)

Dec. 16, 2013 — Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University are engaging social science to help solve some of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

Dr Christina Hicks, an interdisciplinary social science fellow at the ARC CoECRS, holds a joint position with the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University in the USA.

Dr Hicks says more powerful economic interests, such as tourism, currently drive coral reef management. Little thought is given to community needs such as food or wellbeing. This results in conflict.

Dr Hicks explains to improve long-term coral reef management, “human values need to be considered in decision-making.”

Dr Nick Graham, a senior research fellow at the ARC CoECRS, adds that humans play an essential role in ecology, but different people have different priorities. He says these priorities need to be considered when managing natural environments.

For example, in a recent co-authored paper for the journal Global Environmental Change, Dr Hicks and Dr Graham, along with Dr Joshua Cinner, measured and compared how managers, scientists and fishers prioritized specific benefits from coral reef ecosystems. This in effect highlighted key areas of agreement and conflict between the three different stakeholder groups.

Dr Graham says the lack of ‘ownership’ of reef resources for fishers, who depend on fish for their food and livelihoods, underlies a main area of conflict. But the paper also indicated that managers might be well placed to play a brokering role in disagreements.

“Communities that are engaged and recognized are more likely to trust and support their management agencies,” adds Dr Hicks. She explains that governments who consult local communities in order to develop co-management plans generally reduce conflict and see increased livelihood as well as ecological benefits (such as a rise in fish stocks) in their area.

Examples of successful co-management arrangements exist in coral-reef nations such as Papua New Guinea and Kenya.

Journal Reference:

  1. Christina C. Hicks, Nicholas A.J. Graham, Joshua E. Cinner.Synergies and tradeoffs in how managers, scientists, and fishers value coral reef ecosystem servicesGlobal Environmental Change, 2013; 23 (6): 1444 DOI:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.07.028

The Folly of Defunding Social Science (Huffington Post)

Scott Atran

Posted: 03/15/2013 10:55 pm

With the so-called sequester geared to cut billions of dollars to domestic programs, military funding, social services, and government-sponsored scientific research — including about a 6 percent reduction for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation — policymakers and professionals are scrambling to stave off the worst by resetting priorities. One increasingly popular proposal among congressional budget hawks is to directly link federal funding of science to graduate employment data that seriously underestimates the importance and impact of social sciences to the nation at large, in order to effectively justify eliminating social science from the federal research budget. For example, federal legislation introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would require states to match information from unemployment insurance databases with individual student data and publish the results, which would show earnings by program at each institution of higher education. But educators and economists note that measuring return on investment via salary alone is too simplistic: liberal arts majors often start out at lower salaries but make more than their peers in later decades. Even more worrisome, in the guise of practicality, such maneuvers offer up a not-so-veiled attempt to justify eliminating government funding for the social sciences, perilously underestimating their importance and impact to the economy and national welfare.

In a major speech last month, Eric Cantor, the U.S. House majority leader, proposed outright to defund political and social science: “Funds currently spent by the government on social science — including on politics of all things — would be better spent on curing diseases.” Cantor’s call to gut the federal research budget for social science echoes Florida governor Rick Scott’s push to eliminate state funding for disciplines like anthropology and psychology in favor of “degrees where people can get jobs,” especially in technology and medicine. Targeting the social sciences with little understanding of their content is an old story for legislature looking to score cheap political points. The late Sen. William Proxmire (D-Ark.) used to scour the titles of NSF-funded projects in psychology and anthropology, looking for recipients of his Golden Fleece Awards without bothering to examine the results of the research he myopically pilloried. Such shenanigans ignore the fact that social science research provides precise knowledge that is relevant to people’s practical needs and the nation’s economic and security priorities. Most government laws, programs, and outlays directly concern social issues, including the establishment and means of government itself, and the need for law enforcement, military capabilities, education, and commerce.

Gutting social science also undermines national security. For, despite hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars poured into the global war on terrorism, radicalization against our country’s core interests continues to spread — and social science offers better ways than war to turn the tide. Moreover, social science is in fact moving the “hard” sciences forward. For example, recent research based on social science modeling of cancer cells as cooperative agents in competition with communities of healthy cells holds the promise of more effective cancer treatment. Those who would defund social science seriously misconstrue the relationship between the wide-ranging freedom of scientific research and its ability to unlock the deeper organizing principles linking seemingly unrelated phenomena.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a Republic with an enlightened citizenry educated in “all philosophical Experiments that Light into the Nature of Things … and multiply the Conveniences or Pleasures of Life” — not just technical training for jobs that pay well.

The Social Sciences’ ‘Physics Envy’ (N.Y.Times)

OPINION – GRAY MATTER

Jessica Hagy

By KEVIN A. CLARKE AND DAVID M. PRIMO

Published: April 01, 2012

HOW scientific are the social sciences?

Economists, political scientists and sociologists have long suffered from an academic inferiority complex: physics envy. They often feel that their disciplines should be on a par with the “real” sciences and self-consciously model their work on them, using language (“theory,” “experiment,” “law”) evocative of physics and chemistry.

This might seem like a worthy aspiration. Many social scientists contend that science has a method, and if you want to be scientific, you should adopt it. The method requires you to devise a theoretical model, deduce a testable hypothesis from the model and then test the hypothesis against the world. If the hypothesis is confirmed, the theoretical model holds; if the hypothesis is not confirmed, the theoretical model does not hold. If your discipline does not operate by this method – known as hypothetico-deductivism – then in the minds of many, it’s not scientific.

Such reasoning dominates the social sciences today. Over the last decade, the National Science Foundation has spent many millions of dollars supporting an initiative called Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models, which espouses the importance of hypothetico-deductivism in political science research. For a time, The American Journal of Political Science explicitly refused to review theoretical models that weren’t tested. In some of our own published work, we have invoked the language of model testing, yielding to the pressure of this way of thinking.

But we believe that this way of thinking is badly mistaken and detrimental to social research. For the sake of everyone who stands to gain from a better knowledge of politics, economics and society, the social sciences need to overcome their inferiority complex, reject hypothetico-deductivism and embrace the fact that they are mature disciplines with no need to emulate other sciences.

The ideal of hypothetico-deductivism is flawed for many reasons. For one thing, it’s not even a good description of how the “hard” sciences work. It’s a high school textbook version of science, with everything messy and chaotic about scientific inquiry safely ignored.

A more important criticism is that theoretical models can be of great value even if they are never supported by empirical testing. In the 1950s, for instance, the economist Anthony Downs offered an elegant explanation for why rival political parties might adopt identical platforms during an election campaign. His model relied on the same strategic logic that explains why two competing gas stations or fast-food restaurants locate across the street from each other – if you don’t move to a central location but your opponent does, your opponent will nab those voters (customers). The best move is for competitors to mimic each other.

This framework has proven useful to generations of political scientists even though Mr. Downs did not empirically test it and despite the fact that its main prediction, that candidates will take identical positions in elections, is clearly false. The model offered insight into why candidates move toward the center in competitive elections, and it proved easily adaptable to studying other aspects of candidate strategies. But Mr. Downs would have had a hard time publishing this model today.

Or consider the famous “impossibility theorem,” developed by the economist Kenneth Arrow, which shows that no single voting system can simultaneously satisfy several important principles of fairness. There is no need to test this model with data – in fact, there is no way to test it – and yet the result offers policy makers a powerful lesson: there are unavoidable trade-offs in the design of voting systems.

To borrow a metaphor from the philosopher of science Ronald Giere, theories are like maps: the test of a map lies not in arbitrarily checking random points but in whether people find it useful to get somewhere.

Likewise, the analysis of empirical data can be valuable even in the absence of a grand theoretical model. Did the welfare reform championed by Bill Clinton in the 1990s reduce poverty? Are teenage employees adversely affected by increases in the minimum wage? Do voter identification laws disproportionately reduce turnout among the poor and minorities? Answering such questions about the effects of public policies does not require sweeping theoretical claims, just careful attention to the data.

Unfortunately, the belief that every theory must have its empirical support (and vice versa) now constrains the kinds of social science projects that are undertaken, alters the trajectory of academic careers and drives graduate training. Rather than attempt to imitate the hard sciences, social scientists would be better off doing what they do best: thinking deeply about what prompts human beings to behave the way they do.

Kevin A. Clarke and David M. Primo, associate professors of political science at the University of Rochester, are the authors of “A Model Discipline: Political Science and the Logic of Representations.”