Earlier this month, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) released a new report — Rebuilding the Mosaic: Fostering Research in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences at the National Science Foundation in the Next Decade — representing the results of a year-long visioning process assessing the directorate’s existing research investments and identifying important research directions for the future. What’s interesting is that the report, which is based on 252 white paper submissions from 240 authors (received through an open submission process) specifically touts “an interdisciplinary, data-intensive, and collaborative vision for the future of SBE research” — one that necessitates new partnerships and synergies between social scientists and computer scientists, among others. In particular, the report notes, “Technology is an interesting phenomenon: it enables the science, and it is an object of study.”
The report includes definitive work on how behavioral, social and economic sciences can contribute significantly to understanding critical issues ranging from brain and behavior; creativity and innovation; crisis and disaster prevention/management; education and learning; social network dynamics; and to many other topics of critical importance to increasingly interconnected world communities.
“We have the opportunity to transform SBE over the next decade by creating a new generation of researchers and by providing them with the research programs, data and working environments in which to answer critical questions,” said Myron P. Gutmann, NSF assistant director for SBE.
Selected excerpts from the report — which describes opportunities in healthcare, learning, and energy:
The modern world confronts Americans with a series of challenges that call for integrated responses across the full range of sciences. Innovation and competitiveness in the future knowledge economy; coastal zone management and disaster response; and local, regional and global migration are but a few of the near and long-term problems we must tackle. Equally important, successes in social network analysis, behavioral economics, decision making, and neuroscience, together with robust data sources and computational tools, offer analytical methods and approaches that are capable of supporting both traditional and collaborative research at potentially new scales, from the cellular to the global…
The computational revolution in research that has taken place over the last 20 years has created a technologically networked community with the capacity to connect researchers in new ways…
Access to different sources of data raises new issues about experiment design and methods as well as the more familiar concerns about inadvertently disclosing sensitive information. Moreover, relatively new theoretical approaches (for example, complexity) as well as access to computational technologies and tools (for example, gaming and matching algorithms) have enabled and will continue to enable simulation as well as data-based arguments.
The research community, including senior scholars, recently tenured faculty, and graduate students, has communicated clearly its ideas about the broad contours of future research:
- Support new approaches to fundamental questions, including interdisciplinary research within the SBE sciences and across traditional divisions to reach out to biology, ecology, computer science, and engineering (among others).
- Help scientists form collaborative teams and find ways to enable continuing training in new techniques and methods.
- Provide the infrastructure of data, services, and programs to enable computationally intensive, data-rich investigations, scenario- and model-building, and integrated multidisciplinary investigations.
As my colleague Michael Gorman, a recent program director in SBE, noted to me:
The consensus appears to be that more collaboration across SBE disciplines is essential going forward. I would add collaboration beyond SBE, with other fields like CS. Note the emphasis placed on agent-based modeling, which is a CS-intensive technique, on social-networking [and "collective intelligence" more broadly], which is CS-enabled, and on the development of large data sets, which will probably call for advances in data acquisition, mining and accessibility over networks. There is a great opportunity for CS/SBE collaboration here…
Indeed, the report opens the door to even greater collaboration opportunities between CS and the social sciences, along the lines of the Social-Computational Systems (SoCS) program as well as the more recent opportunities in computing and economics, cyberlearning, smart health and wellbeing, and secure and trustworthy cyberspace.
And please share your thoughts about possible synergies between CS and the social sciences in the comment section below!
(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)