A STRATEGY FOR ASSESSING SCIENCE
Behavioral and Social Research on Aging
Irwin Feller and Paul C. Stern, Editors
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This project was supported by Award No. NO1-OD-4-2139, Task Order No. 122 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Health and Human Services. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A Strategy for Assessing science : behavioral and social research on aging / Committee on Assessing Behavioral and Social Science Research on Aging, Center for Studies of Behavior and Development, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education ; Irwin Feller and Paul C. Stern, editors.
p. ; cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN-13: 978-0-309-10397-8 (pbk.)
ISBN-10: 0-309-66759-3 (pdf)
1. Gerontology—United States. 2. Aging—Government policy—United States. I. Feller, Irwin. II. Stern, Paul C., 1944- III. Center for Studies of Behavior and Development (U.S.). Committee on Assessing Behavioral and Social Science Research on Aging.
[DNLM: 1. Aging—United States. 2. Research Design—United States. 3. Behavioral Research—United States. 4. Cognition Disorders—United States. WT 20 A846 2007]
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Copyright 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2007). A Strategy for Assessing Science: Behavioral and Social Research on Aging, Committee on Assessing Behavioral and Social Science Research on Aging. Irwin Feller and Paul C. Stern, Editors. Center for Studies of Behavior and Development, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
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COMMITTEE ON ASSESSING BEHAVIORAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON AGING
IRWIN FELLER (Chair),
American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC
Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Kentucky
PAUL B. BALTES,
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Williams College
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Department of Psychiatry, Ohio State University
ROBERT E. KOHLER,
Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
Department of Sociology, Harvard University
LEAH L. LIGHT,
Department of Psychology, Pitzer College
Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley
College of Letters and Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University
GEORGE E. WALKER,
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Stanford, CA
Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
PAUL C. STERN, Study Director
LINDA A. DePUGH, Administrative Assistant
This report is dedicated to the memory of Paul B. Baltes, director of the Center of Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, who died on November 7, 2006.
Paul was an active contributor in the committee’s early meetings, before illness limited his further participation in person. His expertise in multiple facets of aging research, breadth of perspective on the science policy and organizational issues embedded in the committee’s charge, and above all, skill, warmth, and civility in helping forge common ground on which individuals from disparate fields could base their analysis and recommendations were singular contributions that suffused subsequent committee meetings and the preparation of this report.
This report responds to a request from the Office of Behavioral and Social Research (BSR) at the National Institute on Aging for a study on how best to assess the progress and vitality of areas of behavioral and social science research on aging and on how to identify the factors that contribute to the likelihood of discoveries in areas of aging research.
BSR’s request embodies both some of the longest standing and most current of questions confronted in the formulation of national science policies, in both the United States and other countries. The request includes criteria questions, such as what kinds of science should the public sector, or specific agencies, fund; selection mechanism questions, such as what procedures should be used to implement these criteria; principal-agent decision questions, such as which individual(s) or groups of individuals should possess the authority to make decisions regarding choice of areas of funding or selection of specific research proposals; conditions for success questions, such as the size and composition of the most productive research unit, ranging from single investigators to large teams comprised of researchers to several disciplines; and quality assessment questions, such as the compatibility between established disciplinary-based procedures for organizing selection panels and assessing the importance of scientific findings with statements about the increased salience of research done at the intersections of fields or the interstices between and among them.
These questions in part derive from broad trends in the United States and elsewhere toward increased demands for accountability and documentation of performance on the part of government agencies across all functional areas, including public-sector support of science and technology. In
this respect, the above questions connect logically to those subsumed within the Government Performance and Results Act, the President’s R&D Investment Criteria, and the Office of Management and Budget’s Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART).
There is a special salience to BSR’s request. From the perspective of a single federal agency and program officer, it poses many of the very same questions that are latent in recent calls by John Marburger, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, for a “new science of science policy.” Addressing the specific operational needs of a single office in the context of the larger historical, policy, and analytical discourse on criteria and mechanisms for setting research priorities, evaluating returns from past investments and identifying the factors that contribute to research productivity is obviously not simple. As noted above, BSR’s request connects to long-standing, generic issues of science policy. The committee’s task (and obligation) was to be responsive to the specific charge from a specific sponsor.
The report has attempted to address both the general and the specific aspects of BSR’s request. It places the request within the larger and long-standing search for criteria and methodologies for assessing the vitality and performance of fields of scientific inquiry and determining the conditions that lead to scientific success. At the same time, it addresses BSR’s mission to support behavioral and social science research on aging, the organizational context in which it operates, and the fields of research it supports. Likewise, the report’s recommendations are directed specifically at meeting BSR’s programmatic concerns. Retracing at selected points well-known issues, the report also makes more explicit than earlier studies and recent reports several of the organizational, political, and methodological issues that permeate and beset debates about criteria for scientific choice. From this vantage point, it notes how its findings and recommendations connect to larger science policy themes, including areas of needed research to strengthen the scientific basis on which science policy decisions are made.
Attending to both the specific and the general intellectual and policy richness embedded in BSR’s request for this study inevitably requires trade-offs about breadth and depth of coverage of selected topics. The committee’s choices and the rationales behind them are detailed in the body of the report. In general, to increase the near-term prospective usefulness of its recommendations, the committee has chosen to focus its review of methodological techniques on those now used or considered by U.S. federal science agencies. Coverage is provided of a larger range of research forecasting and assessment techniques, such as used by U.S. industry and by European countries, but for reasons noted not with extensive detail.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with
procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: James Banks, Professor of Economics, University College London and Institute for Fiscal Studies; Don Brenneis, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz; Margaret Gatz, University of Southern California; Robert Hauser, Center for Demography, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Diana Hicks, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology; Guohua Li, Department of Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University; Duncan T. Moore, Institute of Optics, University of Rochester; Zur Shapira, Stern School of Business, New York University; and Neil Smelser, Department of Sociology, University of California.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Marshall S. Smith, Education Program, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Appointed by the National Research Council, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Irwin Feller, Chair
Committee on Assessing Behavioral and Social Science Research on Aging