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Faculty Service

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Tenure-line faculty at US universities have multiple duties. They are key drivers of the curriculum design and instruction, they are core to the research and scholarship produced by the institution, and they provide key service as part of the shared governance process of the university.

Service incorporates membership on unit-level committees on student curricular processes, faculty merit review, etc., as well as university committees evaluating new initiatives. There is previous research that found a positive link between service to one’s university and commitment to that institution. That is, there seems to be a virtuous cycle when faculty contribute their time to making the institution better. Service also incorporates activities in support of one’s professional affiliation, often through membership on local, regional, or national committees of a professional organization. There has also been some commentary that the role of service varies over a typical academic’s career, with more attention to service and perhaps more fulfillment from service later in one’s career.

I recently came across an interesting piece that combines data from self-reports of 4,400 faculty at 13 research universities, based on the COACHE survey of faculty. About a quarter were assistant professors, a third were associates, and the rest were full professors.

There was a fairly consistent pattern of results, with the associate professors less satisfied than assistant or full professors with the amount of committee work, time spent on those tasks, the attractiveness of the assignments, the equity of assignments, and other aspects of service work. The associates were most likely to report less satisfaction with juggling the demands of teaching, research, and service.

The discussion in the paper noted a common tendency in research universities to shield assistant professors from service obligations, as well as a commensurate increase in service work performed by associates. At the same time, the analysis showed that full professors are more satisfied with their balancing teaching, research, and service. A clear question is whether the associate rank is shouldering a disproportionate share of the administrative duties.

The use of associate professors in burdensome administrative roles is something that Georgetown is trying to reduce, in order to provide an environment for their continued scholarly growth.

Georgetown faculty have participated in two editions of the COACHE survey. In the 2014 version of the Georgetown survey, we noticed a pattern of lower career satisfaction on average among associate professors, and that led us to probe what underlay the findings. As a result of faculty focus groups, we mounted a faculty-led effort to improve the clarity of promotion criteria from associate to full. We also mounted a program that encouraged new mentoring of associate professors.

However, we haven’t actively addressed service obligations of the professoriate at Georgetown. The analyses from other universities has made us more sensitive to the service side of the associate professors’ lives. I’d be interested in the community’s reaction to this issue.

Gathering of the Tribe: The Annual Professional Meeting

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Summers are traditional times for some (certainly not all) professional organizations to have their annual meetings. The meetings have a common format, with presentations made by scholars grouped into thematic sessions. Often a designated discussant is asked to critique one or more presentations, pointing out weaknesses that might be repaired in the next version of the work.

Having just come back from such an event, I find myself reflecting on their value.

For everyone attending such sessions, there are glimpses of what’s new in the field. Many presentations are incremental to the work presented in last year’s conference, but there are usually undeniably novel presentations, which generate some buzz. Sometimes these present real challenges to the field’s accepted knowledge. Such presentations generate arguments that sometimes break out in the discussion after presentations (or later in dinners and more casual gatherings). Academic fields thrive on conflicting viewpoints and debate.

The meetings are glimpses into the future. Many fields are facing multi-year delays in the publication of scholarly results, based on clogged peer review and editorial processes. The only way to keep up to date with a field is by attending such meetings. They are the setting where new work is first displayed. Three years later one sees the peer-reviewed final products, but by that time other developments have already taken place. These conferences disperse the key ingredients to update our class syllabi in order to give our students the most current knowledge in a field.

In thriving and growing fields, the attendees are disproportionately young scholars. It is they who dominate many of the sessions, seeking feedback on their efforts to push the field forward. There is nothing quite like orally presenting your work for real-time peer review.

There’s generally a lot of informal mentoring that occurs in these settings. They are one of the few arenas where those new to the field encounter those with much more experience, but without the complication of working in the same organization. Honest discussions and interchanges seem to be permitted more in these meetings.

Another real benefit of such conferences is reinforcement of one’s professional identity. Those working in relatively small professions may find themselves the only staff member interested in a set of issues within their organization. They can find themselves isolated, too frequently challenged to justify the legitimacy of their interests. The annual conference becomes a time to reenergize professional commitment by interacting with others who share those interests.

This socialization feature of an annual conference is especially important to emerging cross-disciplinary fields. By definition, interdisciplinary fields combine scholars from multiple traditional disciplines. Over the years, when traditional disciplines accept and incorporate such groups, the original professional organization tends to grow and revitalize itself. Those that are hostile to interdisciplinary add-ons sometimes face a challenge of renewing themselves. When an interdisciplinary field has their own conferences, they often use them to build out the field more fully.

Professional development needs contact with other professionals. Advancing one’s work requires knowledge of the cutting edge developments in the field. Assurance that we are presenting our students the latest developments in the field demands that we know those developments. Professional conferences are valuable tools to achieve these goals.

A Follow Up to Examining Academic Analytics Data for Georgetown Faculty Curricula Vitae

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Some months ago, a post described a review of Academic Analytics data for Georgetown faculty.

After collegially reviewing data and methods with Academic Analytics, we concluded that most of the discrepancies between information collected from faculty CVs and Academic Analytics’ data were the product of the type of work covered and collected by Academic Analytics, timing issues relating to faculty hiring, and date ranges associated with certain Academic Analytics data. It is clear to me that Academic Analytics does a good job of collecting and making available the data that it purports to collect, and that the data largely are accurate. For that reason Academic Analytics can be a useful tool for universities, and it has the potential to become even more useful as it expands the nature and types of data it collects. Importantly, the results reported in my prior blog represented Georgetown’s attempt to completely replicate scholarly performance data as they appear on faculty members’ CVs. Academic Analytics, of course, neither claims nor seeks to address every data element that appears in faculty CVs, and instead aims to build a comparative scholarly performance matrix across all research universities. That difference in aim and purpose largely accounts for many of the discrepancies reported in my prior blog. We continue to believe that Academic Analytics’ data are valuable and important.

Talking (and listening) to the Other, Next Edition

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Some months ago I wrote a post that argued the importance of face-to-face conversations with those who are very different from ourselves. With such conversations we can see “the other” not merely as an opposing ideology or a threatening culture or race, but as a human being.

Each of us has had life experiences that have shaped our worldview. Some of these have shaped our conception of our own life possibilities. Others have provided us our beliefs about the desirable attributes of our country. Still others have shaped our sense of what is fair and of the relative importance of the individual and his/her group.

Interacting with someone with very different life experiences who has very different basic beliefs can help us understand them (and ourselves) better. Sometimes we can even imagine how we might think differently, had we experienced what they had experienced.

Last year, members the Provost’s Committee for Diversity took on the project of designing and mounting student dialogues across different race/ethnicity groups. They seem to have been quite useful, especially for those students whose past life experiences robbed them of the opportunity of exposure to different ways of thinking.

The events of the past year, in my mind, have only reinforced the view that more of us could profit from such dialogue.

In that regard, I am increasingly heartened by grassroots efforts around the country to construct effective environments to have such dialogues. Some are real neighborhood or community efforts, created by those formerly not involved in such activities. These initiatives have ambitions to build up a culture of greater understanding from the bottom up – first, building stronger communities on these issues, and then gradually affecting the whole society. Paralleling this are quiet efforts going on behind closed doors by elected officials who find the toxic environment in city councils, legislatures, and government agencies contrary to their motivations to serve the American public.

I wonder whether, at this moment, universities have a unique responsibility to learn from these efforts and expand their reach. Of course, at Georgetown we are fortunate to have a multi-decade set of experiences and rich human resources that have propelled our inter-group dialogues forward. This raises this question: What could Georgetown do practically to further our country’s ability to foster such dialogue?

When two people of highly conflicting viewpoints want to listen and talk to one another, what are the necessary ground rules?

How do we listen to viewpoints that are viscerally opposed to ours, in a search for understanding those beliefs?

There is a common belief that those who hold minority opinions (or believe that their opinions are in the minority) disproportionately hold back, failing to honestly report their beliefs in presence of the majority. How do we present our own beliefs to another who opposes them without fear of rebuke?

How do we build an environment in which all sides feel free to express their real beliefs in one-on-one interaction?

Given the high emotions that seem to accompany all beliefs these days, it might be useful to first discuss methods rather than content. For those who are working on these dialogues, what have they learned as more people seek the experience of talking to those who view the world very differently? How can these grassroots efforts be expanded to involve more and more people?

In Praise of Colleagues

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I recently experienced the death of a close colleague. We had co-authored a few papers and books over the years, and her passing makes me reflect on how fortunate I was to be able to work with her.

My musings led me to think more broadly about the rich relationships that are possible in academia and how important they are to the common enterprise of education and scholarship we pursue.

The scholarly life of academics is often rather hidden from students, who form too many of their impressions of academic life from classroom performances of instructors. Much new research on the impact of higher education on students has shown that working jointly on research with faculty Is a powerful accelerator to lasting value of learning. Having colleagues who show us all how to do this, and involve multiple faculty in such opportunities make us all better,

Further, faculty in the same field who are giving of their time are precious resources at various points in a research project. At the very beginning when we’re selecting the next question to address or the next creation to make, a common issue is how risky a project should be attempted. Big important breakthrough products usually start out with great uncertainty. Projects that are the next logical small increment generally have higher odds of completion but lower impact. Having a good colleague to help assess risk of success and failure is valuable.

At some point in every research project I ever was involved in, there were unexpected and troubling intermediate outcomes — puzzles that made no sense. At a certain point, thinking through the puzzles more and more was a dead end. However, having a colleague listen to your narration of the issues often illuminates new ways of “getting unstuck.” My experience is that oftentimes the new insight came magically merely from the retelling of the issues. What I needed was a knowledgeable listener, who asked a few questions.

Similar experiences occur at the stage of drafting descriptions of the research. All writers get stuck, and colleagues who are willing to read lousy first drafts are treasures. Such relationships depend on great trust because all the weaknesses of the writer are exposed. A colleague who can provide insightful and supportive suggestions is of priceless value.

One of my best memories of learning from colleagues stems from joint teaching activities, especially when the skill sets of the colleagues were complementary to mine. I never exited such an experience without rethinking my own contribution to the class. Several research ideas from such joint teaching led to wonderful collaborations.

Perhaps most important in these kinds of supportive behaviors is the fact that they generate a virtuous cycle. One colleague helps another in one of the ways above; soon the generosity is reciprocated. Intellectual support generates more intellectual support.

So this is a post in praise of caring colleagues. Those of you who enjoy such benefits, it’s worth thanking those who provide them from time to time. My memories of my colleague who died are filled with such sentiments.

Respondent Burden Among Students

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Every year a host of requests for surveys of Georgetown students arise. Some are from external researchers and university consortia, studying attitudes and behaviors of interest to them. Others come from within, from student organizations curious about their impact, from faculty with research questions, and from staff seeking “customer” reactions.

Each of these surveys seeks precious time from the students. Each of the surveys requires support from those University offices having contact information for students. With the proliferation of surveys comes “survey fatigue.” And with fatigue comes declining response rates. These, in turn, can produce questionable survey results.

Survey research has scientific bases. Small variations in question wording can have big effects on answers. The order of questions can affect answers. The sponsorship of the survey can affect who is disposed to participate. Although surveys merely appear to be sets of questions, and “everybody knows how to ask questions,” surveys are not for amateurs. Bad surveys often yield useless results.

To reconcile these competing interests, last year the University adopted a student survey policy. This policy aims to balance the benefit of survey information with the burden that surveys impose on our students. To achieve this balance, this policy manages and limits the number of University-sponsored surveys that students are invited to take. It coordinates the timing of surveys to maximize their effectiveness. It also promotes good survey design and sound survey practices. Finally, this policy ensures that student surveys benefit the University as a whole.

The Georgetown University student survey policy mandates the following:

  • Anyone seeking to survey 100 or more Georgetown University students must apply to the Office of Assessment & Decision Support (OADS) for permission to administer the survey. Applicants can include administrators, faculty and students within Georgetown, as well as any organizations outside the University. Applicants are strongly encouraged to submit their applications at least 3 months in advance of the proposed survey launch date. The online application form can be accessed by clicking here.
  • All applications to survey Georgetown students will be referred to the Student Survey Oversight Group, which must review and approve any new student survey. Appointed by the provost, members of this group will consider the new survey in light of existing surveys to minimize any duplication and avoid scheduling conflicts. They will review the survey’s design and methodology (e.g., sampling, incentives) to ensure alignment with best practices. They will also verify that the survey complies with FERPA requirements and meets the IRB’s approval, which must be obtained separately. Finally, this group will consider whether the new survey’s findings are likely to serve the broader interests and priorities of the University.
  • The oversight group may approve the new survey; it may approve the survey with conditions attached; or it may decline to approve the survey. Where approved, the principal investigator works with OADS to construct a schedule for the survey. The student survey calendar is available by clicking here.
  • For approved survey proposals, the Office of Assessment & Decision Support will provide student contact information (usually email addresses) required for the new survey. Unless there are compelling reasons to employ a census, the list of students should be produced using a randomly drawn sample. The principal investigator will work with OADS to determine the target population and the minimal sample size needed to yield statistically significant results. Note that no other office may provide this list of student email addresses without the consent of OADS. The principal investigator must be willing to share the survey data and findings with OADS.

Through this policy we seek to reserve the time of students only to the most important measurements and to maximize the benefits of student surveys to the whole university.

An Update on Building an Institute for Racial Justice

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In February, 2016, President DeGioia announced a variety of steps that Georgetown was to undertake to address the US society’s legacy of slavery and Georgetown’s history of the sale of enslaved persons.

He named a working group of faculty, staff, and students from all three Georgetown campuses. In addition to building a new department of African-American Studies, located in Georgetown College, the group was charged with assessing the best way forward for a Georgetown Institute for Racial Justice, an institute that was a university-wide entity to coordinate existing scholarship in the area and catalyze new scholarship and related activities. The Institute, ideally, would have strong ties with the Center on Research on the Study of Slavery and its Legacies. The working group submitted its report to the president at the end of the academic year, summarizing months of work by devoted members. He approved the report, permitting the next steps in building the Institute.

The group had met with scores of faculty around the university to inform itself about interests in a possible new institute. In essence, the question was posed, “What attributes of an Institute for Racial Justice would make you excited about working with the Institute?” From these meetings, the group met many colleagues, on all three campuses, whose work is related to racial justice. There was real enthusiasm that Georgetown, at this moment in history, could build a uniquely impactful center of scholarship and community outreach.

From the meetings with faculty throughout the university, the working group identified multiple areas for potential activities of the Institute:

Disparities and Inequality (e.g., health, education, income, housing, employment)
What are the sources and dimensions of enduring racial disparities in areas, such as health, education, income, housing and employment? How should we understand the impact of family structures and environmental conditions on social and political outcomes? What are the long-term trends and future projections that define racial inequality in the United States? The working group met with many faculty who are actively tackling these questions.

Advancing Social Structures (e.g., legal, governmental, education systems, medicine, policy) What legal or political structures perpetuate injustice along racial lines? What proven solutions seem to work in areas such as education and medicine to alleviate the power of race as a determinant to community trajectories? How might areas such as banking and voting regulations be transformed to enable full participation in markets and elections? The working group found much activity in this area, notably, active scholarship, educational programs, and outreach activities on prisoners and justice system inequities.

Diasporic Conversations (e.g., immigration, reparation, inclusion/exclusion, assimilation) To what degree is the U.S. experience of race a national, a continental, or even a global phenomenon? How do cognate ways of perceiving and structuring the world, such as ethnicity and gender, intersect with the past and present? Under what conditions do other social groups and structures around the world, such as religion, become “racialized”? How can we understand and analyze the monumental cultural products of the African American experience and their connections to the struggle for justice?

Finally, the working group came to the conclusion that the Institute for Racial Justice could be a major institution in Georgetown’s outreach to the DC community. Faculty engaged in scholarly work that focuses on D.C., including health equity, arts, and legal work, were hopeful that the center would convene faculty in ways that would inspire new research collaborations that could have real practical impact on Washington, D.C. This could lead to cross-field collaborations for those interested in health, education, housing, and legal justice. Such a focus is completely consistent with the strategic goals of enhancing the service of Georgetown to the betterment of its local community. Further, Georgetown has a tradition of exploring challenging social issues from multiple perspectives and through multiple traditions, including arts, performance, and media. The center could support this work in several ways, including taking advantage of our D.C. location by hosting visiting performers. There seems to be great promise that Georgetown could develop a distinctive program in this area.

Finally, the group formed an alliance with those working on the Center for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies, created as part of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. Both groups believe that the efforts should be coordinated, and we are working cooperatively in forming the two entities.

In the coming months we will launch a search process (university-wide) for tenure-line faculty who will be joint appointments between the Institute for Racial Justice and an educational unit within the University. Next year a speaker series will host prominent scholars working in areas related to Institute.

This is a very exciting time at Georgetown. We have much work to do, but many of us sense that we can create a uniquely valuable resource for the university, the city, and the country, if we work together toward that end.

Interdisciplinary Review of Interdisciplinary Faculty

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Any large organization is necessarily segmented into specialty areas. Automobile companies have divisions devoted to single brand names within the larger enterprise. Government agencies have directorates, divisions, branches – all oriented to coalescing talent and responsibilities of sub-processes within the larger mission of the agencies. So too universities have schools, departments, programs, areas, fields, etc., oriented around knowledge in particular domains and/or professions recognized as career clusters.

Increasingly, all the organizations above realize that members who have knowledge across the various subunits can contribute to the overall mission in uniquely powerful ways. Hence, the rise of attempts to flatten business organizational structures and create cross-functional work teams. In universities with missions that include improving global conditions, scholars who combine knowledge from multiple domains can offer unique contributions to that mission.

Interdisciplinary scholarship thrives with reward systems that sustain the effort to bridge disciplines. One reward often comes directly – students are attracted to new ways of combining information and the joy of teaching engaged students is a reward. Further, for those domains that are supported with external funding opportunities, rewards seem to be growing, as many research funders are disproportionately funding interdisciplinary work. However, almost by definition, the publication outlets for interdisciplinary work are less prestigious, within any one discipline contributing to the interdisciplinary content. Further, scholars in one of the fields, especially those deeply embedded in that field, may not give high marks to the quality of interdisciplinary work involving their field.

All of this is relevant at any point that an academic is evaluated on his/her performance. In the academy, in addition to annual merit reviews, there are important mid-course pre-tenure reviews (often in the third or fourth year of an assistant professor’s career), and reviews for tenure and promotion to associate professor, and for promotion to full professor.

After having read many promotion dossiers over the years, there seem to be a few important features of an effective evaluation of an interdisciplinary scholar. First, the quality of the internal review by colleagues is enriched when the colleagues collectively represent the various knowledge domains exhibited by the candidate, ideally when they are engaged in similar interdisciplinary efforts. This produces a real peer review. Second, the quality of the external review is enhanced when there are multiple different types of expertise represented – the individual fields of knowledge being combined by the candidate, as well as the interdisciplinary field of the candidate. It is especially useful for external reviewers working in the same interdisciplinary area to comment on the quality and relative impact of the publication media and products of the candidate. It’s to be expected that those representing a single one of the fields may have trouble evaluating the interdisciplinary work, but a good review also needs to determine whether the candidate’s contributions to the single field are useful to the field, if only to test theories of the field.

Interdisciplinary scholarship is best judged, therefore, by a combination of perspectives. Our institution’s synthesis of those perspectives needs to recognize that the critical question is whether the work of the scholar has impact on the interdisciplinary field as well as the constituent individual fields.

The Georgetown Humanities Initiative

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For several months a group of faculty has led discussions regarding efforts to enrich the scholarship and learning environment for the humanities at Georgetown. Georgetown routinely produces large numbers of works from our faculty in theology, philosophy, history, classics, literature, languages and linguistics, anthropology, and cultural studies. Having faculty at the cutting edge of their fields enhances the learning of our students. While the faculty who collectively constitute the humanities at the university are one of its great strengths, there currently is no university-level organization that continuously nurtures this strength.

We wondered whether we could enhance the scholarship of our faculty by becoming more intentional in designing an environment supportive of these activities. We saw this as an opportunity to unify more fully the scholarly lives of faculty and the learning lives of students. While students in the humanities are exposed to critical thinking, creative writing, and construction of critical argumentation, these activities most often occur within classrooms and offices of faculty mentors. In contrast to the natural sciences, where students can work hand-in-hand with faculty in laboratories doing science, humanities students get fewer opportunities to witness the doing of the humanities – the presentation by scholars of their work to other scholars, the live critique of text-based scholarship, the explanation of how the work was crafted by the author, the description of technique employed to create an object by an artist, the story of how a play evolved over its writing. We could use more structured opportunities for such gatherings of students and the scholars who are their instructors and mentors.

As I have written in the past, the future of liberal education depends on a renewed sense of the contribution of the humanities to the world. As a Jesuit university, understanding of alternative approaches to the human experience is key to building a better world through service to others. Identifying solutions to the remaining world problems needs values, creative skills, and life principles honed in the disciplines of the humanities. “Out-of-the-box” thinking propels the humanities forward; debate about alternative interpretations is essential to all the fields.

Working over several months the faculty group produced a draft document that describes their ideas. It’s being used both to seek more input and to inquire whether there might be external financial support to achieve some of its vision. For example, this past academic year we’ve invited many leaders of humanities centers throughout the country to visit us, give us advice, and forward suggestions on how a university-based humanities organization could be uniquely valuable in the nation’s capital.

The report sketches some of the ideas that might be part of a humanities center — faculty and student fellowships, research and curricular support, interdisciplinary workshops and public symposiums, as well as exhibitions, performances, and visual culture programming. Given our location in Washington, D.C., partnerships between such a center and other cultural organizations seem especially promising. The report notes the opportunity for Georgetown to take a global and interdisciplinary approach to the humanities that situates the traditions and histories of human expression in an international and connected context, valuing the humanities contribution to complex problems facing society. It could develop leadership in the digital humanities, using digital media and computing to advance the ways that we research, teach and understand human expression. Finally, it could play a signature role in the public humanities that seeks new ways to preserve and advance the value of humanities and the arts through cultural institutions and creative public expression and education.

Through the work of the faculty group, we are convinced that Georgetown needs a Humanities Center to achieve its rightful place among the great universities of the world. For that reason, the Office of the Provost has accepted the proposal and during the next academic year will form the Georgetown Humanities Initiative. The purpose of the Initiative is to construct the vision, concept, structure and early activities for a humanities center. The goal will be to maintain the great momentum of the faculty group, as we simultaneously seek philanthropy and research funding support for the center. We will seek to fund collaborations across the humanities and between humanities and other fields in order to create proofs of concept on the work that a humanities center could do at Georgetown.

So, What Difference Do the Social Sciences Really Make?

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These days we’re all spending a lot of time rethinking how funding for basic and applied research will be sustained. This affects the humanities and basic sciences in almost all fields. It’s thus ever-more important to learn how best to communicate why research in diverse fields is important to the future of the world.

In that regard, it was interesting to see a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, “The Value of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences to National Priorities.”

The report concluded that the social, behavioral, and economic sciences are key to our understanding of the “human aspects of the natural world,” that their diverse methods of inquiry are of ubiquitous use, and that the education of future social scientists should prepare them to be more data-intensive, interdisciplinary, and team oriented.

The report contained some good examples of social science findings that truly have changed the world. Developments in game theory decades ago now facilitate the matching of kidney donors to those who need them, vastly improving the efficiency of the process and saving more lives. There is clear evidence that social isolation and stress are precursors to hypertension and diabetes; ignoring that knowledge portends poor outcomes. Experiments in the relevant cognitive burdens of “opt-in” versus “opt-out” decisions have led to large increases in savings for retirement among workers, improving the welfare of millions. Cognitive psychological research in visual perception and memory has informed courtroom practices in eyewitness testimony, consistent with findings that prior beliefs and lawyers’ wording of questions can affect reported memories. SBE research has shown that young children simultaneously learning multiple languages can do so easily, leading to bilingual adults with more cognitive flexibility and less likely to experience cognitive decline in aging. Demographic models of life expectancy are key everyday tools in the insurance sector.

One of the issues in communicating the impact is that the findings themselves have so fully been incorporated into common knowledge that their source has been lost. In contrast to other fields of inquiry (e.g., astrophysics), all of us are embedded in social systems, which confront us with many of the behaviors and thoughts that are themselves the objects of study of the social sciences. To support our self-assessment of our own abilities to navigate this reality, we must believe we understand the mechanisms underlying these behaviors. In that sense, we are all social scientists, amateur, though we are. When new basic research in the social sciences becomes known, we can quickly integrate them into our own belief systems. The findings then become obvious, but only in retrospect.

But there are also counterintuitive findings that have trouble bucking conventional belief systems. While it’s often thought that successful people achieve their state because of superior intelligence, repeated social science findings show that the wealth of parents, quality of schooling, and place of birth has big impacts regardless of intelligence. When groups make decisions, it’s better to have them based on all members’ input than to rely on the single best decision maker in the group. Much of the current biomedical research focus on race and gender differences was motivated by decades of social science findings of health outcome differences in these groups, despite those fields continuing to assume the homogeneity of humans. Such counterintuitive findings from the social sciences generally take longer to have their impact on the society.

So many of the remaining unsolved world problems require deep understanding of human thought, beliefs, and behavior. The Academies’ report and others like it are valuable reminders to the importance of basic research in the social sciences to any hope we have of building a better world.

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