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to fund it, or it is relevant and tries to change these laws of gravity and hence, we shouldn't fund it for political reasons.
I wonder if you could help us to overcome this problem? How do we approach this situation where social science research is perceived as trying to change the law of gravity ?
Dr. Simon. First, I think we have come a long way in this respect in the past 20 or 30 years, and again, I think it is a matter of not just a few people understanding the potential role of the social sciences but of our society understanding that role.
With all of the ups and downs and occasional checks, I perceive around me in the universities and in the Federal Government's activities in these fields a greater tolerance for examination of human institutions, for objective description of those institutions in all of their variations, than I saw 20 or 30 years ago.
I think we really have come a long way in this respect. I think social scientists can help by being very careful, when they touch on areas that have important policy applications and particularly on sensitive areas, to distinguish the facts that they are able to validate the hard facts-from the interpretations of the facts, and to distinguish interpretations from the policy conclusions that they would draw from the facts.
It always has been part of the training of social scientists to have some understanding of that distinction, but perhaps we could improve that training so that we are less often misinterpreted, or correctly interpreted, as making policy prescriptions when we think we are doing social science. I don't mean that social scientists have to withdraw from the world. I mean that they need to make their role crystal clear as to whether they are prescribing or whether they are trying to understand.
I think, also, and your comment on differences between cultures is important here, I think, also, that within social science we haven't always been clear as to when we are dealing with the laws of nature and when we are dealing with cultural facts.
Sometimes, it is said as a half-joke that psychological theory is a theory of the American college sophomore, because most of the experiments have been run with college sophomores as our human subjects. We might get some surprises if we used juniors or people who hadn't gone to college or people from another culture as subjects.
But today, in cognitive science and psychology we are learning what anthropologists knew a long time ago: That there are certain basic invariants of human behavior. There is no way we know in which you can stretch your short-term memory so that you can hold in it three telephone numbers instead of one. So, that is kind of a basic invariant that will turn out probably to be a biological invariant. On the other hand, we are learning that between such invariants and the actual behavior, there are layers of strategy, and those strategies are modifiable. What we call culture is a piece of those strategies.
Mr. Brown. Dr. Simon, I want to raise a subject which is of considerable current interest but may not be in an area that you care to comment on.
In the macroeconomic field, there have been some indications lately and some of them based on economic research, that our models of the economic system have failed to adequately factor in certain factors which can only be described as psychological. That is, the anticipation of certain constituencies of a certain thing is going to perhaps lead them to modify their economic behavior. This may be true of labor unions anticipating inflation. In fact, one of the explanations given for continued inflation is that the expectation of continued inflation continues to fuel it.
Do you feel that there is a possibility that the interdisciplinary research and the social sciences can contribute to a better understanding of this macroeconomic problem that we seem to have at the present time?
Dr. Simon. There, you have touched a very sensitive button. You asked in the beginning of my testimony how I could be an economist and a psychologist. That is a difficult question, indeed, because really those two disciplines, until recently, haven't been talking to each other very much.
The work on experimental economics we heard described here is quite novel and unusual in that respect. I do, indeed, think that the current crisis in macroeconomic theory and business cycle theory, in which there is now quite a diversity of views, can be attributed in considerable measure to our lack of a theory of how human beings form expectations. I don't mean there isn't enormous speculation about that in economics. As a matter of fact, a lot of the current excitement in economics is about something called “rational expectations theory," which is a very elegant idea, very elegantly developed.
The only thing we don't know about rational expectations theory is whether it describes any real human behavior or not. Where economics and psychology need to bed down together, much more closely than they have in the past, is in finding ways to verify—by direct observation of human behavior, and by human laboratory experiments of the sort that were described here—which of the rather large set of theories of expectation formation that are now current really do describe how human beings go about predicting the future.
Probably before we get done, we will have to have the historians and the anthropologists in the act also, because expectation formation too is something that probably changes from one culture to another and over time. I am sure that if we had good data 15 years ago about the extent to which people took price trends into account in their economic planning and we had comparable data for today, we would find that there has been a great change in the public view about whether this variable is worth paying attention to or not.
That kind of shift—the economists have a name for it, they call it shift in structure-is not anything that is easily accommodated in the kinds of economic theories that we have now, nor does economics today have very much skill in detecting empirically when shifts take place. much less in anticipating them.
Mr. Brown. That leads me to a more specific question. I am inclined to feel that the Foundation is emerging from a period in which it perhaps focused too narrowly on the interesting problems in the social sciences to a recognition of the importance of a good interdisciplinary approach within a somewhat broader framework than it has in the past. I would like to ask you to comment, if you could, on how sound a contribution the Foundation makes to the support of research that does broaden our understanding of the complexities of some of these areas?
Dr. Simon. Well, since I have spent most of my own professional life in interdisciplinary space, I would, of course, welcome any funding of such research. Generally, I would welcome a greater emphasis on studies that draw knowledge from more than one of the social sciences when that knowledge is relevant. But I think we are all aware, also, that the National Science Foundation, in the social sciences as in its other activities, can only to a limited extent be an opinion leader. It can't support science unless there are absolutely first-rate scientists who want to do that kind of science.
To the best of my knowledge, the National Science Foundation is and has been rather sensitive to the values of interdisciplinary research, but the opportunity to support such research must depend on the progress of attitudes within the sciences, themselves. That is, unless we convert a body of first-rate economists to the belief that there needs to be some empirical, psychological research as a part of economic research, then, there will be nobody for the Foundation to support. We in the sciences have to set our houses in order if we are to enable the Foundation to do that.
That doesn't mean that the Foundation has to be passive. I think it can look for trends in the sciences and try to be among the foremost. I thing it sometimes can encourage and has encouraged scientists to get together for the purpose of looking forward in their own sciences and looking for new directions.
Dr. Brown. I have a rather striking quotation which I would like to enjoy with you, from an economist.
The whole economic profession, indeed, is an example of that monumental misallocation of interlegislational resources which is one of the most striking phenomena of our time. Far from being in a mood of self-congratulation, we should be in a mood of repentance. We are still like Newton, only a boy playing on the sea shore, and a great ocean of food still lies undiscovered before us. That undiscovered ocean is man, himself.
I don't suppose you would quarrel with that, too much. Dr. Simon. No; although I think the opening sentences may be a little harsh. It shows some lack of charity. Economics, about the time I finished my education, was getting very excited about having found some sharp and powerful new mathematical tools, and it has been working with those tools and sometimes has become fascinated with them, and they have contributed mightily to the progress of that science in the last generation.
But, I think we have perhaps reached a time—and that quotation expresses the same sentiment—we have reached a time when we probably want to blend those tools with a little more attention to what the world is like out there.
Mr. Brown. Well, that is the point of my question.
Is the Foundation, in its desire to improve tools, losing sight of the broader function which we need to get the cognizance of here. After all, although Adam invented the concept of economic man as an entity convenient for developing these theories, I think he knew the weaknesses better than most of the people who think they are economists today.
Dr. Simon. If I wanted to fault someone here, it would not be the Foundation. It would be the economics profession. I cannot honestly say from my knowledge of the NSF's economics program-I had, a couple of years ago an opportunity to examine it while chairing the
committee that reviewed the NSF behavioral science programs I can't say that the NSF has been turning down good proposals for economic research. Certainly the economics program has had a primary focus on the tool builders and the sharp tool users, but that is synonymous with the best economists of the recent and current generations. I think the reform has to begin in the American Economics Association before it can move very far in the National Science Foundation.
Mr. Brown. Well, that is one of the examples where you are damned if you do and you are damned if you don't. That is unfortunate. They have a lot of situations like that.
Mr. Harkins, if at any point you feel you would like to ask some questions, I don't have any further.
Mr. SCOVILLE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have one brief question.
Dr. Simon, you mentioned some interesting work on the relationship between the way an expert and novices tackle problems. My question is, would there be an attempt to try to understand how the research process takes place and, in general, does this research show us any insight into the process by which sometimes relative novices, in a field, come and make very fundamental changes by potentially exposing the weaknesses of the underlying hypotheses? It would seem to me there is enormous potential for understanding the creative process by, basically, stimulating innovation. I am just curious as to how you feel with respect to this?
Dr. Simon. There is a good deal of research going on now in cognitive science on the innovative process. There is also some excellent research going on in economics on the adoption of innovations. But, referring to the cognitive science research, there are already several computer programs that, in a very modest way, simulate processes that one would have to call creative. That is, the computer discovers all sorts of new things it didn't know, in a way that mimics human creativity. We even have one such program in our shop, which was able to take some raw data and discover regularities in them. We are using that kind of computer simulation as one of many tools to explore what creativity is all about, how it is that a system can search through large spaces and move into new territory.
I don't think, although that question is obviously on the agenda, this research has touched much yet on the specific question you raised, that is, what are the circumstances under which someone moving laterally from another field can suddenly throw light on a problem which a discipline, itself, has been unable to tackle or to solve satisfactorily.
That is an important phenomenon. I don't think anyone has directed the kind of research that I am describing at that particular phenomenon.
Mr. SCOVILLE. Thank you.
Mr. Brown. Dr. Simon, I want to show my deep appreciation to you for being here and for the very stimulative remarks that you have made.
I think the exercise, this morning, has given us a much clearer picture of the importance of the role of the Foundation, particularly in the area of social and behavioral sciences, and we are grateful to all of the witnesses who have appeared. Thank you.
Dr. Simon. Thank you.
Mr. Brown. The committee will come to order.
This afternoon is the last of a number of sessions devoted to the fiscal year 1981 authorization for the National Science Foundation. We are focusing today on those programs within the Behavioral and Social Science Directorate, not for the purpose of picking them out for unfavorable comparison, but hopefully in order to clarify our understanding and strengthen our defense of these programs.
We have this afternoon a distinguished panel of social scientists from the social science community, not a part of the National Science Foundation. We look forward to varied testimony and observations with regard to the role of the National Science Foundation. I trust that their discussions will illuminate not only the value of the programs, but any areas in which it may be possible to provide direction and strength that would help in the continual battle for support of science in the Congress.
The first witnesses will be a panel of three persons, Dr. Judith Rodin from Yale University, Dr. Harlan Lane from Northeastern University and Dr. Reynolds Farley from the University of Michigan. If they would care to come up at this time, I would be glad to have them.
STATEMENT OF PANEL CONSISTING OF DR. JUDITH RODIN, DE
PARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, YALE UNIVERSITY; DR. HARLAN LANE, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY; AND DR. REYNOLDS FARLEY, POPULATION STUDY CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
Mr. Brown. Dr Rodin, would you like to start and give us the benefit of your observations?
Dr. Rodin. Thank you, Mr. Brown, and members of the committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today. I am delighted to do so because it is my belief that we stand at the threshold of an era where the burdens of modern society can in large part be attributed to problems of behavior.
Medical research will continue to seek cures for many diseases, but we need to learn ways to reeducate the public to engage in behavior that will promote their health and prevent disease. Overeating, alcohol, cigarette and drug consumption, lack of exercise, failure to drive carefully or to use seatbelts—all are essentially problems of behavior and they can be life-threatening.
In other areas of modern crisis, social and behavioral factors loom, equally large. Our energy problems are exacerbated by overconsumption. Technologies for changing energy-using habits and fostering conservation attitudes must be stressed alongside research and development of new sources of energy.
The solution for social ills such as overcrowding, poverty, and crime rely heavily on the scientific study of human behavior rather than on physics or chemistry.