President's Corner: Interesting Times at the Nexus of Society and Social Science

We are daily reminded of the ancient Chinese curse, where "interesting" referenced danger and disruption, and under the curse, we are driven to ask whether there is a path back to uninteresting times. This “President’s Corner” initiates a series on the relationship between society and the social sciences, using this first installment to suggest that there is no path back.
A half-century ago social science funders put in place practices based on trust. Essentially, they provided funding for the advancement of science, understanding that their investment would lead to broad social gains, but largely leaving us (the science community) to pursue curiosity-based research. In return, we promised to self-police, to apply merit criteria, and to provide research findings of social benefit. Though this agreement—four parts autonomy and one part accountability—worked spectacularly for a time, it did not have staying power.
The reasons are many. Funders saw, fairly or not, preoccupation with self-serving disciplinary priorities more than attention to national needs; the turn to advocacy, especially in the think-tanks, which blurred the boundary between science and ideology; slippage in self-policing; replication challenges; and various  misunderstandings and self-inflicted wounds. There was a steady shift to what, by the early twenty-first century, was one part autonomy and four parts accountability.
Then, suddenly, the curse of interesting times arrived. There is no getting back to “fund us and trust us.” Efforts to restore this already weakened model are wasted. The task—and it is not easy—is to protect the basics even as we negotiate a new society and social science agreement, one which now needs to take into account influential anti-fact and anti-expert voices. 
Certainly the task involves doubling-down, doing better than we already do, including strengthened communication. Pronouncements to that effect arrive daily. My initial message: That won’t be enough. 

Academy Elects Distinguished Class of Fellows for 2017

From left to right: Timothy Smeeding, Martha Minow, Claude Steele, Margaret Levi, Lawrence Bobo

Since the founding of its Fellows program in 2000, the AAPSS has inducted 114 Fellows, most of whom are university-based scholars responsible for research that has influenced our understanding of the social sciences. Several Fellows have also been public servants, who have worked in institutions of government to improve the common good. 
The five 2017 Fellows of the Academy are: Lawrence Bobo of Harvard University; Margaret Levi of Stanford University; Martha Minow of Harvard University; Timothy Smeeding of the University of Wisconsin; and Claude Steele of the University of California, Berkeley. 
“Each year, we welcome distinguished Fellows to the Academy, and this year is no different” said Kenneth Prewitt, Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University and President of the AAPSS.  Read more

Academy Webinar on The New Big Science: Linking Data to Understand People in Context

On February 27, 2017, at 12 p.m. EST, The Academy and SAGE Publications are hosting a free webinar to examine the nexus of actionable analysis and big data from public, private, and research sources. This webinar will draw from the scholarship appearing in the January issue of The ANNALS.

Four researchers and contributors to the volume—who have tapped into a broad array of data sources such as administrative data, social media, the Census, and experiments, and have used that data to promote good policies for individuals and communities—are panelists for this event: sociologist Christopher R. Browning of The Ohio State University; Barbara Entwisle, Kenan Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Elizabeth Fussell of the Population Studies and Training Center at Brown University; and Emilio F. Moran, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University and coeditor of the volume. Click here to register.

AAPSS Remembers Fellow Stephen Fienberg

Fellow Stephen Fienberg, University Professor of Statistics and Social Science at Carnegie Melon University (CMU), passed away in Pittsburgh on December 14, 2016, at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer. 
Fienberg was an internationally acclaimed statistician known for developing and using statistical applications to influence science and public policy, including in law, education, census taking, and criminal justice. He joined Carnegie Mellon in 1980 after previous positions at the University of Chicago and University of Minnesota. He was chair of CMU’s Department of Statistics from 1981 to 1984, where he was instrumental in moving it from a freestanding department into the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. From 1987 to 1991, he served as dean of the college.  Read More

Goldin Receives IZA Prize in Labor Economics

The Academy congratulates Fellow Claudia Goldin of Harvard University on her receipt of the 15th IZA Prize in Labor Economics last month at the Allied Social Science Association annual meeting in Chicago. The Prize recognizes Goldin’s career-long work in the economic history of women in education and the labor market. 


One of the important contemporary challenges in social and behavioral science is collecting and curating the best possible research data from an ever-growing sea of sources. Linking a broad array of information—from administrative data (local and state and regional), to social media (Twitter, Facebook), to census and other surveys, to ethnographic data, and data from experiments such as randomized controlled trials—to address how humans and their communities make decisions is challenging. It requires new methods and constant vigilance to maintain the confidentiality and privacy of subjects. This issue was addressed in articles brought together in the January volume of The ANNALS. Read more

Coming Up in The ANNALS

Regulation is often viewed as a two-party relationship between a regulator (R) and the target (T) of its regulation. The March volume proposes regulation as a three-party system, where diverse intermediaries (I) provide assistance to regulators and/or the target, by drawing on their own capabilities, authority, and legitimacy. The editors refer to this system as the “RIT model.”
The March volume of The ANNALS introduces examples of regulation that support the RIT model and examples that extend and build on the model. The RIT model is not limited to the activities of regulatory agencies, or even of the state. Rather, it characterizes all forms of regulation. Some of the cases discussed in this volume include food safety regulation, credit rating agencies, regulation of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and rule intermediaries in global labor governance.

We Tweet. Do You?

The AAPSS is on Twitter! Are you? Follow us at @TheAAPSS and share your updates, news, and thoughts with us.   

If you're not yet on Twitter, it's a great way to share your work with colleagues and other academic organizations, so join the discussion!

If you are not on our distribution list and would like to get The AAPSS Dispatch, sign up today.


Share Your News With the AAPSS Community

The AAPSS Dispatch is published bimonthly to Fellows of the Academy, members of our Board of Directors, and our substantial network of professional and academic colleagues. If you'd like to reach the AAPSS community with news of your own, please email us.

Call for 2018 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize Nominations

We are accepting nominations for the 2018 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize. The Moynihan Prize recognizes social scientists, public officials, and other leaders in the public arena who champion the use of informed judgment to improve public policy.  

Candidates must be able to accept the award in person at a ceremony to be held the following spring as well as deliver a major public policy address on a topic of his/her choosing. Please click here for more information and to submit a nomination. 

Copyright © 2017 The American Academy of Political and Social Science, All rights reserved.