Reflecting on the recent US electoral campaign and its aftermath as the most recent and powerful evidence for the existence of a “post-truth” age, Duncan Watts and David Rothschild argue that we have entered a legitimacy crisis—“whom and what to trust,” as they put it—in relation to knowledge claims and the institutions that validate them. The authors discuss why information technologies have exacerbated the problem, and offer some suggestions for compensating for and perhaps restoring lost legitimacy.
In a new contribution to the “What Is Inequality?” series, Julia Lynch asks, “What happens when politicians, policymakers, and even researchers begin to frame the problem of social inequality in health terms?” Through extensive research on health policy debates in Europe, Lynch finds that the otherwise laudable emphasis on the social determinants of health inequality can have counterproductive effects. She particularly focuses on the tendency for health inequality issues to become dominated by health professionals, and to the construal of the issue as so complicated that it draws attention away from economic policy instruments that might more systematically reduce inequalities, including health inequalities.
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.
In this contribution to the "What Is Inequality?" series, Kevin Leicht argues strongly that, given the nature and extent of economic inequality in the United States today, scholars and policymakers should address it directly rather than emphasize its social and educational dimensions. Leicht claims that research and public discourse on gaps between identity groups, and on the importance of education for social mobility, distracts attention from the deepening economic differentiation within groups and the need to address broader issues of labor market outcomes and wages.
In the latest response to “Can Social Science Matter?,” Ron Haskins argues that social science should tackle heightened demands for accountability by not overpromising on impact while also trumpeting existing work that simultaneously deepens social understanding and contributes to addressing public problems. Haskins highlights two relatively recent and influential approaches that have demonstrated the capacity to bridge the purposes of “basic” and “applied” research—the mining of large scale administrative data and the use of randomized controlled trials to test the effectiveness of a range of social programs.
In her response to Kenneth Prewitt’s piece "Can Social Science Matter?,” Lisa Anderson traces the historical relationship of social science to the modern state. As the state’s role in promoting the well-being of citizens becomes increasingly challenged, to what, or to whom, social science is now accountable similarly grows ambiguous, even as calls for its accountability grow.
Thomas Schwandt takes up Kenneth Prewitt’s framework of narratives, metrics, and use for addressing accountability issues for the social sciences. Schwandt argues that accountability needs to be imagined within a “dialogical space” that joins social scientists with policymakers, funders, and the public in an exchange about the values and purposes of research, rather than a one-way flow of communication from knowledge producer to user.
The SSRC’s Measuring College Learning (MCL) project has concluded its first phase in developing faculty-derived learning outcomes for a diverse set of undergraduate majors. In this essay, Richard Arum and Eleanor Blair discuss the intention and scope of the project, as well as detailing how they arrived at the result of their work, Improving Quality in American Higher Education. Faculty panels convened across six disciplines found, despite their diversity, that learning in majors should cohere principally around concepts and competencies, rather than content knowledge in and of itself.
With the civil war in Colombia hopefully nearing a settlement, attention is turning to creating new economic opportunities, not least for demobilized combatants. The mining industry may play a key role here, and Renata Segura explains why through discussing the results of the SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum's (CPPF) recent work with the Working Group on Mining in Colombia (GDIAM). The working group report, Proposals for a Shared Vision on Mining in Colombia, is based on intense deliberations with all affected actors and emphasizes the opportunity to proactively shape the development of an inclusive, resilient, and competitive mining industry.
Colleagues from the SSRC’s Measure of America program discuss how research on human well-being can shape policies to enhance it. Using the program’s in-depth research in Sonoma County, California, as a case study, the authors show how their findings of surprising disparities can effect change through local partnerships and strategies to communicate results in ways that resonate with a wide range of community members.