Social and Behavioral Research in The United States Research Paper

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Progress in science presupposes an infrastructure that sustains research and exchange of new scientific information, that prepares requisite personnel, and that advances cumulative knowledge of the empirical world. This is no less true in the social and behavioral sciences than elsewhere in science and engineering. While science is increasingly international, with its own sustaining infrastructure, a primary base for advancing science exists within each nation. In the USA, the foundations of the existing infrastructure for the social and behavioral sciences (hereafter, social sciences) were laid in the early decades of the twentieth century and subsequently expanded just after World War II (WWII). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, certain limitations of this infrastructure are apparent. Perforce, these factors may constrain progress in social sciences in the USA and may fail to encourage a full participation in or realization of an international science of behavior and society as the new century unfolds.

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1. What Is Infrastructure?

For most of science, ‘infrastructure’ conjures up images of national laboratories, orbiting telescopes, polar weather stations, or supercolliders; in other words, bricks, mortar, and the research instruments of ‘big’ science built and maintained at great expense. What this image misses, even for the natural and physical sciences, are the myriad elements of science organizations, such as national academies and scientific associations, funding sources and review systems, libraries and databases, theoretical models and methodologies, journals and other communication media, and advanced training programs that separately and collectively sustain and advance the research enterprise of individuals. In fact, it is easier to say that ‘infrastructure is an indispensable adjunct to the efforts of individual scientists’ (Prewitt 1995) than it is to specify what comprises the comprehensive and necessary elements of science infrastructure. This may be especially true for the social sciences for which the ‘bricks and mortar’ components of infrastructure are fewer or less obvious (CBASSE 1998). Thus, any definition is apt to be rather arbitrary if only to the degree that from the myriad enabling elements some selection must be made, lest the list be boundless and the definition, useless.

At a level of abstraction, the terminology, infrastructure of science, emphasizes shared and sustaining resources that not only make scientific research possible for individuals but also add value—often multiplying the value—of individual research activity. ‘Shared’ refers to what is accessible as a public good for a science, something whose value is not diminished by multiple uses or that produces economies of scale or multiplier effects. For example, a multimillion dollar investment in building an instrument for magnetic imaging of the mind at work is much like a similar dollar investment in a 10-year panel study of a nation’s youth as they leave school and enter the workforce. Many investigators can use both ‘instruments’ for a great variety of analytical studies, each of whose value is not diminished, indeed, perhaps even made greater by virtue of others using the same instrument for different scientific projects. This is especially true when such projects—all conducted at low additional marginal cost because of the same base investment in the ‘instrument’—allow for the aggregation of information and therefore newly emergent information not available from the separate studies. For example, multiple time-series of different topical domains might cross-reference brain images over time in cognitive and in emotional activity, or, from the same sampled cohort, might interrelate the economic outcomes of the school to work transition and of the trajectories of social development over the same period. The term ‘sustaining’ refers to necessary resources without which the advance of science would be slowed or halted, or, would be very expensive to nearly impossible to reconstruct if left to deteriorate. For example, if the US congress were to cut the funding of the National Science Foundation in half for, say, a four-year period because of a change in political or fiscal priorities, research universities might be forced to close some laboratories or institutes, and some might even redirect their missions. A 40-year time-series on the American electorate, broken for a decade, may never retrieve the value it would have had were it not interrupted (much like temporarily ‘turning off’ a telescope designed to capture rare events, like the birth of a supernova).

2. Historical Development Of Infrastructure

Most of the foundations of the infrastructure of the social sciences at the end of the twentieth century were laid in the two decades prior to WWII and just after its conclusion (Prewitt 1995, Bulmer 2001). In the earlier period, a remarkable convergence of interests within the leadership of private philanthropy and of the burgeoning social science disciplines and their national associations yielded an extraordinary array of institutions and resources that were to both consolidate and accelerate the growth of social research as a ‘science of society.’ Elements of this new infrastructure included the University of Chicago and its celebrated Chicago School of community-based social research, the Social Science Research Council in New York City, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and what later was to become the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. In the later period, with the rapid evolution of the federal administrative state following the great depression and especially after WWII, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health funded an expansionary phase of basic and mission-related research. Most of this science-building activity occurred within the nation’s research universities, themselves a product of the postwar era. Yet the two growth periods for infrastructure resulted from different interests and goals and emerged from distinctly different historical moments. The course of social sciences in the USA reflects the history of its infrastructure just as much as it does the intellectual biographies of its leaders and evolving corpus of scientific contributions (Deutsch et al. 1971).

2.1 The Foundational Period

At the close of the nineteenth century, the roots of what was to become American social science drew their energy from investigative journalists and reformers in settlement houses and from statisticians seeking to count unemployment and develop statistically reliable representations of labor markets in local areas (Bulmer 2001). It would be incorrect to speak of an infrastructure of social science as such at that time, because the nature of social inquiry was hardly scientific in the sense of being driven by intellectual curiosity and disciplined by interrogating ideas and conclusions with careful measurements of social phenomena and behavior. Statisticians such as Carroll Wright were developing crude labor statistics for the state of Massachusetts after the civil war, mirroring the ‘statistical movement’ in Victorian Britain and the ‘probabilistic revolution’ pioneered by Quetelet and others in Europe during the early to midnineteenth century (Bulmer et al. 1991) . However, what drove even this descriptive, social statistical enterprise was related to—perhaps even dominated by—what motivated muckraking journalists and also reformers and advocates for the poor like Jane Addams and W. E. B. Du Bois at the beginning of the twentieth century. This was a concern—often embedded within progressive reform ideology—about the apparent fragility of democracy and threats to economic self-sufficiency in an America beset with racial and labor conflicts, massive numbers of immigrants, and unstable economic cycles with impoverishment for many.

This nonscientific concern at the beginning of the twentieth century did lead to systematic social investigation, largely in the hope of pointing the way to reforming society, relieving the misery of the destitute, and preserving democracy. The Settlement House movement, devoted to improving the lot of urban poor, inspired and drew upon a series of mapping projects and urban surveys, e.g., Hull House Maps and Papers; Du Bois’ The Philadelphia Negro, the Pittsburgh Survey. These proto-scientific inquiries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some commissioned and funded by the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City in the interests of improving social welfare, comprised one cornerstone of the Social Survey Movement. And in turn, they gave impetus decades later to what was to become modern statistical sampling and survey research during and just after WWII (Converse 1987, Bulmer et al. 1991).

Private philanthropy, created by industrial capitalists (or their families) like Andrew Carnegie, the Rockefellers, and Russell Sage in the nineteenth century and administered by charitable foundations bearing their names, provided the initial means and set a scientific course for social science’s development in the early decades of the twentieth century (Bulmer and Bulmer 1981, Prewitt 1995). To that extent, these private foundations created the first explicit infrastructure for a scientific social science. Whether this investment was motivated by the self-protective interests of a capitalist social class (i.e., Fisher 1993) or reflected deeper religious and humanitarian concerns in the public interest (i.e., Bulmer 2001, Lagemann 1989) can be debated. In any case, the early infrastructure of social science emerged from a fortuitous convergence of the announced goals of philanthropic foundations and the coalescence, within the USA, of defined social science disciplines—history, political science, psychology, economics, anthropology, and sociology (Ross 1991). An important additional element of that early infrastructure was the creation of graduate schools at a few universities, starting at the Johns Hopkins University in 1876 and then at Clark, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale.

As for the foundations, leaders such as psychologist Beardsley Ruml at the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial drew inspiration from the natural and medical sciences as a means of understanding and (it was presumed) controlling the phenomenal (empirical) world and set as a goal the creation of a corresponding science of society. This science of society was not an end in itself; it did not reflect so much a commitment to science per se than to use rational analysis and scientific research to reveal the ‘root causes’ of the massive problems of industrial America and thereby to overcome them. Investment into research and the scientific enterprise, e.g., into the putative causes of urban poverty rather than exclusively into assisting poor families, reflected a broad sea change in the goals of private philanthropy in the early decades of the twentieth century (Prewitt 1995). This change in philanthropy led to the creation of several research institutes in medicine and the natural sciences, e.g., the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (1901). But it also coincided with the rapid emergence of several additional foundations and organizations that supported the development of social and behavioral research, e.g., the General Education Board (1903); the Milbank Memorial Fund (1905); the Russell Sage Foundation (1907); and the Carnegie Corporation of New York (1911). Subsequently, these in turn created several core elements of infrastructure: the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), established in 1921 under the leadership of economist Wesley Mitchell, was created by the Carnegie Foundation; the Brookings Institution, in 1927 (after consolidation of several other organizations, including the Institute for Government Research, founded in 1916 with Rockefeller monies); and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), incorporated in New York City the 1920s with Rockefeller backing.

The early history of the SSRC amply illustrates the evolving close partnership between private philanthropy and university-based research of the social science disciplines after World War I. At the core of this history is a very effective network of leadership within the foundations and the small set of elite university research programs—leadership that circulated between these two worlds and galvanized common cause to promote a positivist science of society. Charles F Merriam, president of the American Political Science Association, spearheaded a cadre of counterpart economists, sociologists, and historians (and joined later by anthropologists and statisticians) with commitments to a scientific approach in their respective fields but also to multidisciplinary research inquiries. They founded the Social Research Council (SRC) in 1923 to use a scientific, interdisciplinary approach in analyzing the problems of society, to develop new methodological tools for this science of society, and to assist university-based academic programs in training a new generation of social scientists for this agenda. Merriam and colleagues considered but ultimately rejected the idea of affiliating with the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). (The ACLS was chartered in 1919 to represent the USA within the Union Academique Internationale; it was one of the first councils to span the social sciences and humanities and to represent and develop their scholarship.) Instead, they pursued, unsuccessfully, incorporation within the National Research Council (NRC), the operational arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which at that time incorporated only the fields of psychology and anthropology, the disciplines bearing closest affinity with the natural sciences. The SRC might have failed were it not for Beardsley Ruml, newly appointed director of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial and recent Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago. By 1922 Ruml had $2 million per year to invest in developing a science of society, but he was uncertain that university-based disciplinary departments, or the associations per se, would progress rapidly in that direction. Ruml had endorsed Merriam’s unsuccessful bid to be incorporated into the NRC and suggested that the SRC add ‘Science’ to its name (and thus it became the SSRC). Subsequently, Ruml and the Memorial began a steady flow of financial resources to the SSRC and through it, to university-based faculties to develop their methodological capacity and the volume of science-inspired research into the burgeoning set of social problems of the era. As a Chicago-educated behavioral scientist, Ruml found common cause with Merriam, Chicago faculty member. During this era, the SSRC functioned as the social science counterpart to the NRC and at the same time served as adjunct to the Memorial as a ‘pass-through’ foundation. Between 1923 and 1929 the Memorial distributed about $40 million for social research and advanced (quantitative) methodological training, much of it distributed through the SSRC (Bulmer and Bulmer 1981, Featherman 1994). Ruml later served briefly as dean of social science at the University of Chicago; and in 1929 the Memorial became the social science division of the Rockefeller Foundation.

As for the social sciences disciplines themselves, their progress as empirically based research fields can hardly be understood without acknowledging the catalytic importance of universities and their gradual transformation as centers for academic research as well as for their original mission of educating undergraduates (Geiger 1993). Here, too, the role of the foundations and private investment in creating this element of infrastructure in the early twentieth century cannot be overlooked, even though their support of universities was quite selective and targeted (Bulmer 2001). For example, the Rockefellers provided foundational financing for the University of Chicago and encouraged its evolution toward a research as well as a teaching university. While the modern research university was not to emerge in the USA until after WWII, universities like Chicago and Columbia were notable incubators of empirical social scientific inquiry much earlier than 1940. At Columbia, for example, a statistical approach in research began in 1890 under the influence of Richmond Mayo-Smith and Franklin Giddings and in the genre of its time was focused on local conditions and problems of urban life. Later, just prior to WWII, the Bureau of Applied Social Research and the leadership of Paul Lazarsfeld elevated Columbia’s prominence in empirical social science and embraced national issues and scope as context for refining social theories and quantitative methodologies. Likewise, at the University of Chicago, the seminal empirical studies of W I Thomas on Polish immigrants to Chicago, published just after WWI, were to give rise to a ‘Chicago School’ of sociological research in 1915–35, under Robert E Park, Ernest Burgess, and William F Ogburn (Bulmer 1984) and to a nascent science of American politics after 1920, with leadership from Charles Merriam and his students Harold Gosnell and Harold Lasswell. However, notwithstanding these and a few other notable examples (e.g., the University of Wisconsin in economics and political economy; the Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina, founded in 1924), the presence of social science departments in teachers colleges and teaching universities of the period was quite modest and not given to encouraging research. The notable exceptions usually were tied to investments by foundations and private philanthropy (Bulmer 2001).

The incubation of the social science disciplines within their university base in the three decades prior to WWII yielded several important outcomes. At a few universities, especially those with graduate schools, research groups provided context and exemplars for a more cumulative development of these young fields as academic disciplines. They increasingly asserted claim to intellectual legitimacy in their own right and not simply as means to the end of social reform. And they evolved as more differentiated (one from the other) disciplines with their own basic concepts and methodological approaches, modeled more or less upon positivist natural science. Prior to the early decades of the twentieth century, and without much infrastructure to sustain it, signal events in the development of the social sciences were episodic and failed to cumulate (Bulmer 2001). For example, the American Social Science Association, created in 1865, was the precursor to the American Economic Association and also the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. Its failure to provide sustenance for a social ‘scientism’ and its ultimate disappearance doubtless stemmed from the heterogeneous mixing of proto-scientists and social reformers and the related inability to resolve internal tensions between the advancement of social inquiry toward science and the promulgation of a reform agenda (Furner 1975, Haskell 1977). Later, organizations such as the NBER and the Brookings Institution offered a different kind of continuity and cumulation. Their role in effect transformed the origins of proto-social science as a tool in the hands of the reform minded into what, after WWII, would give claim to be objective scientific expertise provided to the world of public administration and public policy (Prewitt 1995). It was the few universities with graduate schools and active research programs, however, that fostered the growth and independence of disciplinary departments of academic social science, intellectual projects worthy in their own right (Shils 1979). This, in turn, was associated with a professionalization of social scientists according to discipline, leading to a disassociation from the reform-minded and social planners. These university-fostered developments during the foundational period should not be overstated, however. The cadre of social scientists within academe was small and the effects of key leaders of the period—Mitchell in economics, James B Watson in psychology, Merriam in political science, and Ogburn in sociology—were pivotal. And whether within academe or other organizations like the NBER and the Brookings Institution, the practice and refinement of a more scientific social inquiry became a goal in its own right. Toward the end of this pre-WWII period, social science research meant pursuing intellectual curiosity, constructing propositions about the phenomenal social world and behavior, and measuring constructs and collecting data to verify those propositions. ‘Social scientists began to construct a naturalistic social science as an end in itself, and under the influence of instrumental positivism, erected positivist scientific method into the chief standard of inquiry’ (Ross 1991 pp. 467–8, as cited in Bulmer 2001). Nevertheless, the legacy of the Settlement House Movement, of Hull House itself, was to inspire the development of America’s first graduate schools and after WWII, schools of public administration and policy at some of the nation’s most eminent research universities with strong positivist social science traditions. One could argue that in the roles American social and behavioral science played and sought to play in the public policy arena during the second half of the twentieth century, academic scientists never fully disassociated themselves from advocacy and the taking of normative stances (Lynn 2001, compare Prewitt 1995).

Throughout the foundational period, however, the government of the USA played a rather insignificant role in creating the early infrastructure of the social sciences. Most government existed at state and local levels; the federal administrative state grew in size and political importance only after the great depression and WWII. While the USA census dates from 1790, the US Bureau of the Census was created as a permanent federal agency in 1902. The first commissioner of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the statistician Carroll Wright, was recruited from Massachusetts, where he had created the first such statistical bureau in the USA a decade after the civil war. Other elements of a federal statistical system emerged subsequently.

Events like wars and economic depressions, and governmental response to them, have channeled the evolution of the social sciences during the foundational period. For example, WWI mobilization of American men and their screening for fitness and assignment gave rise to nonexperimental but nonetheless quantitative psychology, to the psychometric assessment of personality and mental abilities (drawing upon European precursors). This war effort spawned basic research on individual differences but also an ‘applied industry’ of psychological and educational testing (Carson 2001).

Perhaps the signal contribution of government to the social sciences in the foundational period was President Herbert Hoover’s appointment in 1929 of a blue ribbon research committee to assess trends in American society, especially in the aftermath of the stock market crash. Hoover, an engineer by training, believed in using scientific information to make better management decisions and to solve problems. The committee of leading academic social scientists (chaired by NBER economist Wesley Mitchell) was funded by Rockefeller monies, not by the federal government, and the research was staffed at the private SSRC in New York City. Nevertheless, on the eve of what was to be known as the great depression, this committee afforded national visibility and presidential legitimacy to the nascent science of society that the foundations had sought to create. William Ogburn, Chicago sociologist headed the SSRC research effort, and the committee filed its multivolume report, Recent Social Trends in the United States in 1933, after Hoover had left office. The report took the view commonly accepted at the time: if facts and trends about households, towns, and institutions could be discerned clearly and measured precisely, then surely rational decision-makers would use the information in the enlightened public interest. This view contrasted sharply with the orientation of the Social Survey Movement earlier in the century, when data were collected directly in the service of correcting urban problems (Bulmer 2001). However, the report was widely criticized. Within elite academic circles as represented by leadership within the SSRC, deep reservations emerged about the potential distorting effects of association with political agenda setting, especially the compromise of scientific objectivity and of basic intellectual inquiry. In the emerging federal policy world of the New Deal era, the report was dismissed for its lack of politically informed analysis and interpretative prescription: the facts could not and would not speak for themselves. What administrative decision-makers of the emerging federal state sought was knowledge for action in a political arena and tested against the requirements of political decisionmaking (rather than against the requirements of academic social science professionals seeking legitimacy through objectivity; Lynn 2001).

This dialectic between scientific objectivity and prescription was to become a continuing theme in the post-WWII evolution of social science and its infrastructure. The dialectic represented contrasting points of view of the raison d’etre for social science, of its legitimacy. And as the role of federal government in creating additional infrastructure and public funding for social science increased, ultimately displacing much if not all of the role played by the foundations and private philanthropy, the dialectic punctuated the evolution of these fields of science and of public support of them.

2.2 Period Of Punctuated Evolution

The great depression and the New Deal and subsequently American participation in WWII contributed to growth in the size and political scope of the federal administrative state. Scientists and engineers, as well as their social and behavioral counterparts, contributed to the war effort in a wide variety of federal agencies. Within the Department of Agriculture, for example, studies of the war’s impact on the farm economy and households gave rise to more refined survey research and its technology, especially probability sampling. Because science and technology were so instrumental to the war effort, federal expenditures on research and development (R&D) rose from $100 million in 1940 to $1.5 billion in 1945 (Featherman and Vinovskis 2001). The leadership of Vannevar Bush in the newly created Office of Scientific Research and Development was pivotal in this expansion of federal R&D. Bush also forged links between eminent scientists in the few research universities of the time and the needs of federal agencies and of the war effort overall. Thus, WWII created the funding infrastructure for a lasting partnership between the federal government and the universities and stimulated the fluorescence of the research university.

The effectiveness of this university–government partnership during the war prompted President Truman and Congress to establish the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950. The size of a role for federal support of civilian R&D, especially for the support of basic research during peacetime, was debated. And the place of the social sciences—viewed at best as ‘applied’ and not ‘basic’ science—within the mission of the NSF was heavily contested. Expenditures for these fields represented a mere 1.2 percent of the NSF budget in 1956 and grew only to 1.6 percent ($890,000) by the end of NSF’s first decade (Larsen 1992). Additional support for social and behavioral research emerged in an expanding National Institute for Health (NIH) in the postwar years, although as a federal ‘mission’ agency, the NIH focused its resources on biomedical and other health related science. Indeed the pattern of scattering federal support for science across such mission agencies, and the NSF for more basic research, has impeded a consolidated and centralized federal science policy (and corresponding decentralized decisions about science funding) since the close of WWII. Funding for the social sciences came less from federal sources than from the foundations, but on a steadily declining basis after mid-twentieth century. Whereas the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations were prime supporters of social science before WWII, the newly created Ford Foundation was prominent in the 1950s. For example, over this period, the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Ford Foundation dispensed nearly $43 million for social research and advanced methodological training in universities (Featherman and Vinovskis 2001).

During the same postwar period, economists (most prominently among social scientists) were recruited into new elements of an expanding Executive Branch. For example, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors was established in 1946. But the most rapid expansion of the federal administrative state occurred in the 1960s during the Kennedy and Johnson presidential administrations. The federal government became one of the largest employers of social and behavioral scientists (Featherman and Vinovskis 2001). This was a period of jarring racial turmoil and wide public perception of unsolved and longstanding social problems of crisis proportion, such as poverty amid plenty. The Great Society initiatives of the Johnson presidency, and large federal social welfare expenditures (over $60 billion in 1970, a 142 percent increase over the decade), drew upon social science research for technical guidance. At the NSF, a Social Science Division was created, expanding somewhat the legitimacy of these fields. Similarly, Congress created a National Institute of Education in 1973, and it promoted a broad agenda of research and of evaluation of school reforms. Correspondingly, support for social research blossomed from $384 million in 1961–2 to $803 million in 1966–8, with half coming from federal mission-oriented agencies (Featherman and Vinovskis 2001). And also in this period, both academic and more policy oriented social scientists joined faculties of programs and schools of public policy at a growing number of research universities. Thus, as with WWII, the so-called War on Poverty and associated aspects of the Great Society added to an expanding infrastructure, its funding, and its personnel base for social and behavioral sciences.

If the 1960s and early 1970s constituted something of a ‘golden era’ for social science, its infrastructure, and the role of its practitioners in policy circles, the era did not last long and ended for many in disillusionment. Large-scale quasi-experiments such as Project Head Start and the Negative Income Tax experiment, conceived and designed by social scientists in league with public policy officials, failed to demonstrate large or lasting impacts (White and Phillips 2001, Gueron 2001).

Solutions to social problems proved far fewer, more intractable, than promises; and social scientists argued openly among themselves about seemingly arcane (to politicians and the public) reasons for failure (Aaron 1978). Politicians and the public gradually came to the view that public monies invested in social research were irrelevant if not wasteful. Meanwhile, another war, this one in Southeast Asia, deeply divided the American public during the Johnson and Nixon presidencies. Academics in general, and social scientists within universities in particular, tended to oppose this war. From the perspective of the more politically conservative administrations of Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the anti-Vietnam War had so politicized and radicalized the professoriate that research scholars, especially in the social sciences, could no longer be trusted to provide objective research and evaluations (Featherman and Vinovskis 2001). By the mid-1980s federal funding for the social sciences had been cut back draconically.

In the closing two decades of the twentieth century, few signal events affected basic infrastructure of the social sciences. As if as a bellwether for social science in these times, however, two gradual developments are noteworthy. Following the Watergate episode and resignation of President Nixon, Americans grew ever more cynical and distrustful of government in Washington, and government itself, especially during the Nixon and Reagan presidencies. Academic social scientists, perhaps with the exception of economists and lawyers, retreated to universities to undertake more theoretically inspired research. Those with a policy orientation either joined expanding faculties in schools of public policy or were recruited into a rapidly proliferating set of partisan think tanks (both liberal and conservative) that ringed the Capitol to provide politically inspired analysis and commentary to their respective constituencies. Importantly, the abundant infrastructure of the golden era, especially in the form of repeated cross-sectional surveys (e.g., the Current Population Surveys; the National Election Studies), longitudinal studies (e.g., Panel Study of Income Dynamics; National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth), and quasi-experiments or intervention studies (i.e., Gueron 2001) provided common databases for both academic and policy inspired research and for often fierce partisan debates over issues such as welfare reform (e.g., Danziger 2001). For some social scientists, the century-long search for relevance as honest research brokers telling truth to power (policymakers) ended in confusion or compromise (Lynn 2001), while others withdrew to develop theory and ‘basic’ research within the academic cloister.

A second development concerned the NSF, to some extent the NIH, and funding for social and behavioral science. Full directorate status for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences was created at the NSF in the early 1990s, after 40 years of contested status as a basic science and of politically vulnerability as either ‘social engineering’ or ‘reformers with socialist politics.’ For the first time, this placed the social sciences on an organizational par with physics and engineering, for example. Similarly at the NIH, an Office of Behavioral Research was opened with a direct reporting line to the Director. These achievements owed much to the intellectual and political lobbying of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), the political arm of the professional social science associations based in Washington.

Funding for the social sciences once again increased, although not dramatically in constant-dollar terms and always reflecting growth or decline in the budgets of federal mission-agencies. Furthermore, the stability of Congressional appropriations to these social and behavioral units within the NSF, especially, and the NIH, to far lesser extent, could never be assumed. Congressional appropriation and authorization hearings routinely recorded doubts about, if not fundamental attacks upon, the worthiness and legitimacy of the social sciences even as others emphasized their indispensability (COSSA 1999).

2.3 ‘Y2K’ And Beyond

In the dawning years of the twenty-first century, American social science and its infrastructure face an international challenge. Once an unchallenged exporter of social science theory and methods to the world, often in the form of graduate students from abroad who received advanced education and doctoral training in the USA, American social science is joined by robust science planning and research proliferation in Europe and other continents. While social science infrastructure in the USA has many international components, it remains arguable whether this infrastructure is as internationalized as within Europe, for example. There the Standing Committee for the Social Sciences within the European Science Foundation, and successive science protocols emanating from the European Union, take explicit account and fund cross-national projects and infrastructure elements, like data archives and advanced computational facilities on a shared, international basis. These approaches mimic procedures in the ‘hard’ sciences and engineering, which have been internationalized in the USA and throughout Europe for decades.

Social science in the USA remains robust, a legacy of an abundant infrastructure of the twentieth century (i.e., Deutsch et al. 1971, Gerstein et al. 1988). However, as social science production and training grows more multicentered and less heavily dominated by the USA, as opportunities expand for social and behavioral scientists worldwide to engage in collaborative, cross-national projects with biological and physical scientists about environmental and health related issues, the infrastructure to facilitate this internationalization becomes important to US participation. At the moment, foreign language training for US social scientists is uncommon and suboptimal, even if English is the language of science. The USA lacks an international science conversation, among social and behavioral scientists, that parallels the continental conversation within Europe about infrastructure or about intellectual strategies for context sensitive comparative research. In a century that is likely to require the mobilized resources of social scientists worldwide to tackle the new issues of globalization, as well as the abiding problems of human civilization across locales and regions, US social scientists may need to pay greater heed to internationalization and develop new elements of infrastructure.


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