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have subsequently learned that Professor Bates was the grandson of Benjamin Franklin-of the University of Pennsylvania.
Bates and his research team reported among other things that "sometimes there is a little carelessness in stoking the fire." A bursting steam boiler is not just a matter of chemistry and physics; it is also a matter of operator training and human behavior. The first Government regulatory agency, the Steamboat Inspection Service, was accordingly established.
You will no doubt anticipate the next chapter in this little story. The President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island similarly concluded that it was “people-related problems and not equipment problems” that brought the Nation so close to a major tragedy. A report commissioned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission echoed this conclusion, noting that the principal deficiencies in reactor safety “are not hardware problems, they are management problems."
Well, I tell this story not to make the obvious argument that the Nation needs more, not less, research on how complex decision systems operate under stress and on how technological information is processed both by human minds and in large organizations. This argument, I believe, is self-evident.
I will extract from the story a different principle. The complexities of the problems for which the social and behavioral sciences might be helpful are always going to be one step ahead of the problem-solving abilities of those sciences.
It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. Social scientists work with the world as they find it; and the world moves, changes, progresses, reverses direction. New technologies which derive from natural science discoveries, an increasingly interdependent international economy, a resurgency of religious fundamentalism, a rising revolution in human aspirations, shifting international alliances—these are just a few of the more dramatic developments that keep the problems of the world one step ahead of our ability to solve them.
Now, keeping in mind the principle that problems tend always to stay beyond the reach of problem-solving abilities, we can return more directly to a consideration of the usefulness of the social sciences. Probably no phrase has been repeated more often to this subcommittee than the famous assertion that science faces toward an endless frontier.
Well, so also does government, though for government, we might rephrase the metaphor. Government faces toward moving targets. International and national problems and issues don't sit still waiting for some definitive policy solution.
Probleme shift, emerge, mutate, explode, decay, combine, and change. They do so even as policies are introduced and often in response to the policies themselves. A large part of governing is simply trying to cope and comprehend; another part, to be sure, is anticipating and trying to forestall or avert, but very little of government is “finding solutions."
Now, it is in this context that we examine whether the social sciences are useful. Do they help us to cope and to comprehend, to anticipate and perhaps to avert? Has demographv helped in the planning of government services? Has survey research helped designers of social welfare programs? Has game theory helped national security analysts? Has econometrics helped business leaders? Has psycholinguistics helped educators? Has political theory helped Presidential commissions on government reform?
If, to these rhetorical questions, admittedly, we answer with even a qualified yes, a sometimes or a maybe, then there is warrant to the claim that the social sciences are useful. I will put the issue as bluntly as I can. The social and behavioral sciences are not going to solve the nagging, persisting problems of this or any other nation. These disciplines are not a substitute government.
Rather, economics, anthropology, political science, geography, sociology, psychology, demography, and statistics are sciences. They are sciences whose progress is marked and whose usefulness is measured less by the achievement of consensus or the solving of social problems than by a refinement of debate and a sharpening of the intelligence upon which the collective management of human affairs depends.
Now, I believe that simple, summary statements are risky when speaking of activities which, as sciences, face an endless frontier, and, as contributors to the governing process, face a moving target. I nevertheless will try a one sentence defense of the usefulness of the enterprise. If the social and behavioral sciences contribute to practical judgment a bit more practicality and a bit more judgment than would in their absence be exercised, then I believe the case is made.
I will quickly address the third of my questions, what is the relationship between basic research, of the type supported by the National Science Foundation, and the use and usefulness of social science concepts and methods ?
I start with the reminder that the social and behavioral sciences are comparatively young. National support for basic research in these disciplines, for instance, extends only across one generation of scholars, although important private foundation support goes back another generation. Alas, I emphasize, private sector support has dwindled tremendously in the last three or four decades.
Yet, in this short time, serious scientific momentum has been established in many fields. So also has the application of results from these scientific advances.
I do not see a slackening in the national and international application of concepts and tools produced in the social and behavioral sciences. It may surprise you that I make this observation with some alarm. I am alarmed because I do see a slackening of support for basic research in the social science disciplines.
Therefore, I want to bring to your attention the danger of an imbalance between the science and the application, between the painstaking, autonomous research which tests models and perfects tools and the rapid growth of a social science R. & D. industry.
Let me emphasize at this point that the rapid growth of the social science R. & D. industry is itself a response to Federal funding.
Much has been asked of the social and behavioral sciences in the last two decades; perhaps too much, too soon. Many people believe that social science concepts and techniques are simple to acquire and apply, which is why applied social research is a relatively easy entry industry, giving rise to so-called belt way bandits.
I believe in the social and behavioral sciences, then, we face a unique danger. Activities labeled "social science” will grow even if the basic
science fails to keep pace. In these fields of science, we should take special precautions to insure that applications remain rooted in and guided by basic, disciplined research.
We should be hesitant about asking for evaluation research on Federal programs unless we are prepared to support the prior research into human behavior, social organization, and the political process. We should be wary of the widespread application of social science methods in government and industry, unless we support basic research in statistics, measurement, and observation.
To reduce the support for basic social and behavioral science at NSF will not seriously slow the growth of social R. & D. On the contrary, it might make things worse. It will allow the growth to proceed without insuring the refinement and replenishment of basic skills, concepts, theories, and models in the social science disciplines. Accordingly, I urge you to protect the already limited budget for basic research in these fields.
I would like to add a few thoughts to my prepared comments, Congressman Brown, somewhat in response to the question you raised earlier this morning. I'd like to do so by telling a story.
The Social Science Research Council was recently approached by a mission agency of the Federal Government asking up to manage, take on a major new research endeavor with a rather sizable budget attached to it.
We are in the process of trying to explain to that agency that we do not think the basic research has yet been done to merit the spending of the magnitude of dollars that that agency is talking about. Moreover, even as we begin to share with them our own concerns about how to prepare a somewhat more modest, more focused, and we think more intelligent research project, I am nervous about whether I'm going to be able to find the talent to conduct the innovative research that would be called for in this area.
So, it's not only that we are under enormous pressure to use our skills and to apply our methods, but in many instances, we are under pressure where we are not yet prepared to specify the behavior, to apply the tools that are going to be required. We don't have the numbers of people that are necessary with the sort of deep social science expertise that is called for. It really is the National Science Foundation, and almost only the National Science Foundation, which continues to appreciate the need for replenishment, not only of the skills and the designs and the methodologies, but also the supply of personnel who are committed to deepening our understanding, to making somewhat more practical our judgment.
Therefore, I really do emphasize that the very limited budget for basic research in the social sciences that comes under the management of the National Science Foundation plays a quite critical and key role in trying to link this enormous growth of social R. & D. back to some of the basic work that is going to have to give it direction and give it discipline.
Mr. Brown. Well, I want to thank you, Dr. Prewitt. That was a very well-done statement. Your bottom line, a very modest, you might even say conservative request for merely protecting this limited budget is somewhat unusual.
Dr. PREWITT. I read the hearings last year, sir. (Laughter.]
Mr. Brown. In regard to the addendum that you made with regard to the research proposal for which, really, the basic science wasn't there yet, which you felt that the Research Council shouldn't undertake for that reason, do you feel that other possible contractors would have the same scruples
Dr. PREWITT. No, sir. I have been told that in all likelihood, because of our refusal, there will be an RFP released and there is no doubt that that project will be bid and conducted. May I say that the magnitude of dollars is something like $5 to $6 million, which is larger than the total, for example, political science budget in the National Science Foundation.
Mr. Brown. It's unfortunate that that kind of proposal cannot be more adequately coordinated with the status of the science and with the focus of perhaps remedying some of the basic research needs at the same time.
Dr. Mosteller, I'd like to have you go ahead at this point. I say that even though I would like to ask some additional questions of Dr. Prewitt, but we have to vacate this room in about 20 minutes. I want to make sure that you have ample time to present your statement.
Dr. MOSTELLER. Thank you, sir. Although I am president of the American Statistical Association, I appear here as a private citizen, of course, and also as one whose research in theory and applications in statistics is partly supported by the National Science Foundation.
The testimony earlier has often been broad, and I concentrate on social science as a developer of methods. I regard this aspect as very important because having the tools to find something out is as valuable, and sometimes more valuable, than what is found out itself.
With your permission, I'll speak of recent applications of new methods of social science research and then about some even newer methods and finally about some social science research that I think the country needs.
Perhaps one of the most important advances of social science research in the past decade has been the application of research methods to the evaluation of important social programs. Beginning with the design of the New Jersey income maintenance studies in the late 1960's, there have been a series of major intervention studies sponsored by the Federal Government which have involved social scientists and statisticians.
This work has been initiated in the belief that systematic experimental trials of proposed social programs have valuable advantages over other ways of learning what programs are effective, under what circumstances, and at what cost.
I might interpolate that at one time, economists felt that the experimental method was not a possibility for their field, but we have now a few strong economic studies using experimentation.
As I mentioned to you this morning, George Box, a famous statistician, said if you want to understand how a complicated system changes when you change, there is just one way to find out and that's to change it and observe what happens.
These national programs have included the experimental housing allowance program, the national health insurance study, and the Seattle-Denver income maintenance experiment. On a similar but smaller scale, social scientists have been involved in a wide range of experimental programs in the fields of education, communications, criminal justice, mental health, and manpower training.
Knowledge derived from such efforts does not come easily. Transferring experimental technology from the lab into field settings that often include hundreds or thousands of individual introduces major methodological, to say nothing of political, difficulties.
There is a fundamental tension between the desire for a research design which provides a fair and strong test of the relevant hypotheses and the simultaneous need to plan evaluations that are financially feasible and cost effective.
For example, an important technical fact about the size of an experiment is that the “square root” law prevails. That is, doubling the number of participants in a study will not halve the unreliability of results. One must quadruple the size of a sample to halve the unreliability.
Although statisticians and social scientists are helpful in evaluating social programs when it comes to analyzing data and interpreting findings, their more important contribution comes in determining the initial design of experimental studies.
A major task in evaluation research is the careful selection of groups of individuals to participate in the investigation, a sample that will allow researchers and policymakers to generalize results to future recipients of the program.
New methods, some mathematical, some statistical, and some just plain social science, have had to be developed for this task. In the New Jersey income maintenance experiment, economists Harold Watts and John Conlist developed a model for the selection of program participants which took into account anticipated labor market response, and they incorporated such factors as the structure of local employment opportunities. The development of such sample selection models requires both sophisticated statistical and mathematical skills and substantive knowledge of social phenomena relevant to the program being evaluated.
Yet, the cost of large-scale research efforts and the difficulty of determining appropriate samples are only two of the many problems inherent to the assessment of social interventions. The implementation of social programs can be a complex process requiring the delivery of services to different groups of individuals in different geographic locations.
As the design for such social programs becomes more complex, the tasks required to evaluate the programs become vastly more difficult. For example, a host of problems stem from the fact that the target groups for some social programs are highly mobile, both in terms of residence and occupation.
It is time-consuming and costly to deliver social services to clients who change location frequently or whose first language may not be English. As difficult as it is to deliver services, it is even more difficult to obtain and maintain accurate records on program recipients and relevant control populations.
Incomplete information and attrition are common in such studies. These problems are amplified when one wishes to assess the longrun impact of a social program.