In light of the SSRC’s Media & Democracy program’s ongoing work, Items revisits this 1975 piece by Thomas E. Patterson and Ronald P. Abeles. As part of the Council’s Committee on Mass Communication and Political Behavior, the authors present the impetus behind this committee’s formation as well as potential research directions to explore, including how the media agenda is set, what and who influences it, and how the media impacts public opinion throughout an election cycle. Readers might want to compare their understanding of the present moment to how scholars imagined the fraught, complex relationship between media and politics over 40 years ago when, as the authors argue, already “mass media” has “supplanted political parties as the major intermediary between office seekers and the electorate.”
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Originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and republished in Items & Issues in 2000 to kick off a symposium, Ken Wissoker’s piece examines the definition of interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary research at the turn of the twenty-first century. He finds interdisciplinary research to be a balance between disciplines, one which is under tension from myriad forces, but in particular a territorial impulse, whether conscious or unconscious, to claim the primacy of one’s discipline. To work at the borders of disciplines, Wissoker concludes, scholars must be willing to face their own disciplinary biases.
Thomas Bender, in building on Wissoker’s essay, argues that interdisciplinarity “needs to be understood in the context of the social dynamics of academic culture.” Bender goes back to the SSRC’s early use of the concept as linked to addressing public problems, and an engagement with the world is still a vital reason for its practice today. At the same time, interdisciplinary work faces challenges in terms of both the criteria by which its quality can be judged and as a basis for training new generations.
We continue republishing Items archival essays from a 1999 special issue on the 2000 census with this contribution on political partisanship’s new effects on enumeration. Kenneth Prewitt, then director of the US Census Bureau, warns in this piece against the politicization of methodology and sampling techniques as happened in the run-up to the 2000 census. Though the census has always been political, Prewitt argued that politicians’ shift from politicizing the results to the methodology potentially undermines science, the public’s trust in the census, and the quality of its findings, creating a ripple effect across all national statistics.
In this piece from the Items archive, Carl I. Hovland, Arthur A. Lumsdaine, and Fred D. Sheffield encapsulate the work of volume III of The American Soldier series, Experiments on Mass Communication, which analyzed efforts at indoctrination and instruction conducted on soldiers during World War II. In particular, they highlight the controlled experiment comparisons on responses to the US Army’s “Why We Fight” film series, as well as the limitations of conducting research on the effectiveness of various media of communication.
Studies in Social Psychology in World War II: The Work of the War Department’s Research Branch, Information and Education Divisionby Items Editors
Almost 70 years ago, the SSRC organized and assembled the publication of a four-volume series titled Social Psychology in World War II, now commonly referred to as The American Soldier. This 1949 piece from the Items archive introduces the series, summarizing each volume’s contents, and focuses on the first two volumes, which aimed to heighten social scientists’ theoretical and empirical knowledge of social behavior through the research conducted on World War II soldiers during the war.
Forty years after the publication of the first volume of The American Soldier, John Clausen, one of the series’ contributors, reflected on the project’s history and the volumes’ impact in this 1989 Items archive piece. Clausen explains how the four-volume series anthologized the research conducted by the War Department Research Branch during World War II, which studied soldiers’ attitudes on a wide range of issues, from the war effort to unit desegregation, and utilized various methodologies. In particular, he highlights the role the SSRC and its associates played in developing the Research Branch and the volumes.
We continue republishing Items archival essays from a 1999 special issue on the 2000 census with this contribution on how technical questions of measurement are intertwined with political interests. Margo Anderson and Stephen Fienberg analyze how, given the stakes of reapportionment that census results determine, the statistical methods to compensate for census undercounts are politicized. Especially opposed by the Republican Party in the run-up to the 2000 census were attempts to use sampling techniques to more accurately count poor and minority populations.
The Census of 2000: Our Source of Information about Who We Are, How We Got Here and Where We Are Going in the Next Centuryby Items Editors
Ahead of the 2000 census, Reynolds Farley, in this 1999 piece from the Items archive, delves into the importance of the decennial census for the United States. Highlighting contemporary shifts in the social and economic status of Americans, he stresses the role of the census in understanding these changes at a deeper level, both for policymakers and social scientists, with the economic, racial and ethnic, geographic, and family data it provides. Readers will observe a range of issues relevant to current debates regarding the 2020 census.