below. Actors in this policy enterprise have a stake in whether social science knowledge is useful to and used in policy making.

Although this report specifically addresses what is known and what needs to be studied about how social science is useful for policy making, the analysis bears on how evidence from all sciences is used. The stakes are high for every branch of science that claims to advance social welfare, contribute to economic growth, and enhance national security. The Introduction noted that “use,” being a social phenomenon, is investigated with social science theories and methods, not with the theories and methods of physics, chemistry, biology, or engineering—even though these sciences place an enormous range of issues on the policy agenda. The social sciences should approach their responsibility to study “use” alert to consequences for the physical, biological, and engineering sciences as well.

“BIG” SOCIAL SCIENCE

Sustained attention to the use of social science in policy making received a noticeable boost in the post–World War II period, when leaders saw in “big science” a path to economic growth and social betterment. The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), created in 1950, is the premier institutional expression of this vision. The social sciences were initially excluded from the NSF, but a new role for social science nevertheless emerged (by the 1960s the NSF was funding social science). A convenient marker of the new role is the highly influential study of public schools known as the Coleman report (Coleman, 1966), undertaken in response to a 1964 congressional instruction that the commissioner of education investigate “the lack of availability of equal education opportunities for individuals by reason of race, color, religion, or national origin.” By the standards of social science at the time, this study was big: 600,000 students and 60,000 teachers in 4,000 public schools.

Its size was only one of its distinctive characteristics. The study emphasized educational outcomes, breaking from a research tradition that had largely focused on inputs, such as expenditure per student. The Coleman study is best known for its controversial finding. Student test results and educational aspirations, which were the outcomes measured, could be explained as much by family background variables as by school characteristics (such as classroom size). As noted in the discussion of charter schools in the previous chapter, researchers are still actively investigating the subtleties of



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement