In a new response to Kenneth Prewitt’s "Can Social Science Matter?," Cora Marrett traces the relationship between the autonomy and accountability of research through the history of the US National Science Foundation (NSF). Marrett, who has served several times in leadership roles at the NSF, puts current pressures for accountability in the historical context of increasing public support for research. While an emphasis on “pure” science was more pronounced in NSF’s early days, expectations for accountability that research would serve “the national interest” were also part of NSF’s origins. Marrett recommends that attention be paid to the multiple meanings and uses of accountability deployed by both scientists and government actors over time.
Cora Marrett has served in a range of leadership roles in public support for research and higher education. In 1992, she became the first assistant director of the National Science Foundation’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate. In 2010, she returned to NSF as the Foundation’s acting director and then deputy director. Marrett, a sociologist, has also served as senior vice-president for academic affairs of the University of Wisconsin system and as provost of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Marrett is the former chair of the SSRC’s Board of Directors.