NSF Publishes SBE 2020 Report

November 21, 2011

by Paula Skedsvold

In August 2010, NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate invited scientists to think about the next decade of research and submit white papers describing foundational and transformative questions; skills that would be needed to pursue those questions; and the infrastructure to enable it. The initiative, SBE 2020: Future Research in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, led to the submission of 252 white papers across a range of fields and work settings. 

NSF Assistant Director Myron Gutmann and colleague Amy Friedlander noted in a preface to the recently-released report, Rebuilding the Mosaic, that the title “evokes balances between complexity and coherence, and between continuity and change: like a mosaic, the SBE sciences are individually distinctive yet fit together, employ a diversity of methods and techniques, are tractable and intelligible at multiple levels and scales, and engage a broad range of participants – students, established scholars, policy makers, and citizens. But this project also concerns adapting long-standing relationships among the existing SBE disciplines to reflect new challenges and interests arising from the research community, hence the notion of ‘rebuilding.’”

The report notes that future research will be “interdisciplinary, data-intensive, and collaborative,” but will “rest on a thorough grounding in the core SBE sciences.” It also points to the need for NSF support in building capacity and infrastructure.  One highlight of the report is a proposal for an “integrated science of the mind” led by FABBS President James McClelland and included submissions from other scientists such as FABBS Foundation board member John Cacioppo (see page 26).

Four major topic areas were identified: population change; sources of disparities; brain, behavior, communication, learning, language, and linguistics; and, technology, new media, and social networks. The report also states that the SBEs existing programs serve the scientific community well, but new multidisciplinary ones “may invite a more flexible structure within the directorate.”

Over the next several years, the SBE Directorate will refine the priorities for the content of SBE science; explore ways to develop the capacity to conduct this sciences; and advance the infrastructure needed for this work. While the white papers may be considered in setting priorities within existing SBE programs, efforts will be made to continue to identify gaps both across and within fields. According to the report, a complementary report from the SBE Advisory Committee is in development.

Learn more about SBE 2020 »