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Policy Statement: The Centrality and Importance of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The Centrality and Importance of Behavioral and Social Sciences

CSSP Issue: The mission of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents is to enhance public understanding and appreciation of science; foster scientific research, science study, and dissemination of discoveries; and support the free flow of scientific information from all sciences, including the behavioral and social sciences. Behavioral and social sciences are foundational to an educated citizenry and to the successful resolution of major challenges facing society today, including such examples as resource sustainability, climate change, poverty, cybersecurity, infectious disease, chronic illness, and gene-environmental interactions. Failure to fund research in the behavioral and social sciences threatens progress in all of these areas.

Background: Psychology and the social sciences have been identified as two of seven hub sciences which are central connectors to all other sciences. The other hub sciences are chemistry, earth sciences, mathematics, medicine, and physics. To ensure a scientifically literate citizenry, the behavioral and social sciences are essential for generating and applying research about learning and understanding science in all contexts (i.e., public understanding of science arenas, formal and non-formal educational institutions).[ii] Behavioral and social science research may be defined as research that has a major and explicit focus on the understanding of basic behavioral or social processes, as well as the way in which behavioral or social processes predict or influence outcomes of all kinds (behavioral and social as well as physiological and environmental outcomes). “Behavioral” refers to overt actions, to underlying psychological processes such as cognition, emotion, temperament and motivation, and to biobehavioral interactions. “Social” refers to sociocultural, socioeconomic, and sociodemographic status, to biosocial interactions, and to the various levels of social context, from small groups to complex cultural systems and societal influences.[iii]

It is widely recognized that the major challenges facing society today are too complex to be addressed by a single science and require interdisciplinary teams of scientists that include behavioral and social scientists.[iv],[v],[vi] For example:

  • In 2007, the national scientific academies of the G8+5 countries issued a joint statement on growth and responsibility for sustainability, energy efficiency and climate protection that highlighted the critical role of human behavior, behavior change and behavioral and social science research relevant to these goals.[vii]
  • Currently within biology, a major challenge is to better understand organism-environmental interactions; behavior is viewed as central to this understanding.[viii]
  • The incidence of non-communicable chronic disease is increasing, is the major cause of death worldwide and is a major source of poverty. Human behavior is critical to both the prevention and management of chronic disease.[ix]
  • While many infectious diseases can be prevented by vaccinations or other preventative behaviors (e.g., mosquito netting), individual and community acceptance can be problematic in both the developing and developed world.[x],[xi] Scientific research in the behavioral and social sciences has identified methods to enhance acceptance and implementation.[xii], [xiii]
  • In 2001, the Human Genome Project reported fully sequencing the human genome. However, few diseases are caused by single genes only. Consequently the field quickly moved to consideration of gene-environment interactions which seem to underlie many of our greatest health care challenges (e.g., cancer, heart disease, diabetes); human behavior and social contexts are critical to understanding these interactions.[xiv],[xv]
  • Cybersecurity is of highest priority and requires interdisciplinary efforts that include expertise in the behavioral sciences;[xvi] toward that end, the social, behavioral and economic sciences are one of the major components of the National Science Foundation’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyperspace (SaTC) program.[xvii]

Robust funding of the behavioral and social sciences is, therefore, crucial to advances in other scientific areas. CSSP urges Congress and the Administration to recognize the vital and essential economic significance of R&D of all science areas, including the social and behavioral sciences, to the economy, the resolution of major challenges facing society, and the maintenance of the competitive leadership position of the United States of America in the world.


Boyack, Klavans, & Borner (2005). Mapping the backbone of science. Sociometrics, 64, 351-374.

[ii] National Research Council. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Kills, James W. Pellegrino and Margaret L. Hilton, Editors. Board on Testing and Assessment and Board on Science Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.


[iv] National Research Council (2014). Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. Committee on Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. Washington DC: National Academies Press.

[v]National Research Council (2014). Convergence: FacilitatingTransdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[vi] National Research Council. (2015). Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. Committee on the Science of Team Science, Nancy J. Cooke and Margaret L. Hilton, Editors. Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[vii] Joint science academies’ statement on grown and responsibility: sustainability, energy efficiency and climate protection (2007).

[viii] Sih, Stamps, Yang, McElreath, & Ramenofsky (2010). Grand challenges: Behavior as a key component of integrative biology in a human-altered world. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 1-11.

[ix] World Health Organization. (2014). Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases 2014.

[x] Seither, Masalovich, Knighton, Mellerson, Singleton, & Greby. (2014). Vaccination coverage among children in kindergarten — United States, 2013–14 School Year. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Weekly, Vol. 63, No. 41.

[xi] Larson, Cooper, Eskola, Katz & Ratzan. (2011). Addressing the vaccine confidence gap. Lancet, 378: 526–35

[xii] Mouzoon, Munoz, Greisinger, Brehm, Wehmanen, Smith, Markee, & Glezen (2010). Improving influenza immunization in pregnant women and healthcare workers. American Journal of Managed Care,16, 209-216.

[xiii] Barhama & Maluccio. (2009). Eradicating diseases: The effect of conditional cash transfers on vaccination coverage in rural Nicaragua. Journal of Health Economics, 28, 611–621.

[xiv] Tung & Gilad. (2013). Social environmental effects on gene regulation. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 70:4323–4339.

[xv] Eaton, Krueger, South, Gruenewald, Seeman & Roberts. (2012). Genes, environments, personality, and successful aging: Toward a comprehensive developmental model in later life. Journal of Gerontology, 67A, 480-488.

[xvi] National Research Council (2010). Toward Better Usability, Security, and Privacy of Information

Technology: Report of a Workshop. Steering Committee on the Usability, Security, and Privacy of Computer

Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[xvii] NSF program solicitation 14-599. Secure and Trustworthy Cyperspace (SaTC), 2015.



Approved July 2015


Open Access


CSSP Position: Government policies on open-access publication must minimize the risk of unintended consequences for science and scientists. Should any proposals for adoption of open-access (OA) for all federally funded research within a year or less of publication be adopted, it may lead to the disappearance of many scientific societies; loss of essential services supporting the science enterprise; future loss of access to archived articles; reduced science output; subsidizing of global innovation by US scientists; loss of foreign revenues to US science societies; and fading stimulus for scientific innovation.

Background: Publications fund science societies’ beneficial activities. Significant scientific literature is published by non-profit science societies, and publications are their economic core activity.  Subscription pricing set by the societies is usually a fraction of for-profit publishers, and societies give back those revenues to science via essential value-added services.

Scientific societies provide essential services. Among these are objective science publications; scholarly meetings; professional networking; early-career support and mentoring; professional interaction; science discourse; enhanced diversity in STEM fields; career-advancing honors and awards; outreach and public information; and independent educational resources.

Non-profit science societies need a gradual and consistent transition. Scientific societies operate on very tight budgets and staffing, principally by volunteers. Non-profit science societies need a clear, gradual, and stable research funding environment. Science societies having to conform to multiple policies developed by multiple funding agencies, independent of each other, will be wasteful of societies’ author, volunteer, and staff resources. A rapid transition would favor corporate publishers, further exacerbating the global dominance of for-profit publishers.

Short embargo periods will drastically reduce subscription revenue to societies. The length of the embargo period is critical for science societies. Funding agencies and the scientific publishing community should collaborate to agree upon a mutually reasonable embargo period.

A new funding stream needed. The move to open access publication will alter the flow of funds, meaning that the cost of publication will be born by authors, not libraries. Public policy changes need to identify time-stable funds to support dissemination of research results.

OA will discriminate against scientists from less-developed countries. OA science publication mandates removal of low-cost science publication options. Intended to be egalitarian, they will favor wealthy scientists and nations.

Author-pays OA forces US scientists to subsidize global innovation. OA mandates mean that foreign scientists will receive US research free, paid for by US scientists or agencies. Publication costs will reduce the budgets of US scientists, decreasing research training in our nation.

Research is greater than the sum of its grants. Publications result from scientists’ innovations; materials and labor purchased with grants; publishers’ investments, and costs of sustaining publication data over decades. If individual scientists must abandon intellectual investment quickly because of government mandates, we risk squelching innovation.

CSSP Conclusion: Scientific societies have a special place in maintaining a vigorous scientific enterprise by reinvesting publishing revenues in the scientific workforce of the future. Well-intended plans altering the publishing environment without considering them compromise this engine of scientific productivity. Avoiding this requires a gradual transition; a stable, alternative OA publication funding stream; inclusive publication options; and recognition and valuation of scientists’ intellectual investment. Policy should distinguish between science societies, who are publishing to enrich the science enterprise, and for-profit publishers who use science to enrich their own enterprise.

Government Travel Restrictions

CSSP, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, supports total accessibility for federal workers and contractors to conference and trade shows conducted by scientific and technical organizations.

Current efforts to restrict federal employee attendance at scientific and trade show events threaten the diffusion of knowledge and erode effective transfer of information and research between the government that serves us and the private sector that fosters innovation, jobs and national security. Federal employees need to participate, learn and teach essential public information at such events, and to have few barriers to their participation in private scientific and engineering professional organizations.


Federal participation in scientific and technical conferences runs the gamut from small, specialty meetings targeted to specific areas of federal interest to broad disciplinary or multi-disciplinary conferences that offer access to tens of thousands of research papers and hundreds of sessions, many of which are concurrent.

Conferences provide a variety of opportunities for federal agencies to advance their research missions in real and tangible ways:

Scientific, engineering and technological innovation is increasingly a joint effort between researchers from government, universities, industry, and other institutions.Information exchange through scientific and technical conferences happens much faster than through published journals, leading to more rapid innovation. Such professional conferences benefit federal researchers and the organizations at which they work by exposing them to findings from other institutions, both foreign and domestic.

It is critically important for federal scientists and engineers to know the top researchers in their fields personally, and to be as current as possible on promising research directions.This is especially true when they are responsible for funding research outside their agencies, or for gathering information on worldwide breakthroughs.

Many federal program managers use technical conferences as opportunities to engage with a wide collection of researchers for peer review, program reviews and future program planning, and to efficiently examine a large collection of independent research projects.

Because the alternative is multiple visits to individual research laboratories, this approach represents a significant savings of both cost and time.

Federal researchers and program managers who participate in formal talks, symposia and poster presentations associated with conferences are exposed to thought-provoking questions and comments from fellow researchers, and are engaged in informal conversations that may continue long after the conference or meeting. Such interactions foster productive collaborations and accelerate and improve the work of federal researchers and program managers.

Many science and technology conferences provide undergraduate and graduate students with an opportunity to present their research through poster sessions, allowing federal researchers and program managers an opportunity to more effectively recruit prospective researchers.

CSSP is concerned that regulations released in a May 2012 OMB memorandum to limit federal participation in scientific and technical conferences impedes the dissemination of research that results in useful innovation and has adverse long-term consequences on our national competitiveness. We are also concerned about efforts to limit federal employee attendance through measures currently under discussion.

In addition to restricting participation in scientific and technical conferences, some departments and agencies have applied the current OMB guidelines to restrict participation in Federal Advisory Committees, National Academies’ projects, and other meetings whose functions relate directly to the missions of their agencies. Under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), advisory committees already have strict oversight requirements. FACA also requires they be deemed essential to rendering advice to federal departments and agencies on sound policy development.

Limiting federal participation in Federal Advisory Committees weakens the purpose and utility of such committees.

The science and engineering research community understands that fiscal constraints are currently forcing agencies to administer travel budgets more stringently. We support efforts by Congress and the Administration to ensure the transparency and accountability of federal expenditures, and we encourage you to reach out to stakeholders in the science, engineering and higher education community as you consider oversight policies. Finally, we urge Congress and the Administration to recognize the vital economic significance of conferences to the U.S. economy, the innovation ecosystem, and the U.S. competitive position in the world.