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 her response to “Can Social Science Matter?,” danah boyd encourages deeper reflection among social scientists in order to address heightened expectations for the accountability of research. She argues that accountability is not simply about the quality or impact of answers to research questions, but is instead inherently tied to the choice of questions that social scientists seek to address. Asking the right questions, boyd contends, “requires being deeply embedded within the social world that we seek to understand.”
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.
Kenneth Prewitt, former SSRC president, traces the history of the debates on the accountability of American social science to those who fund and use it. As demands for accountability are currently on the rise, and as expectations for its demonstration grow, Prewitt outlines key dimensions of a strategy for maintaining the autonomy of social science research and using the insights of social science to better understand its own impact.