The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which oversees and directs the work of the 17 agencies and organizations responsible for foreign, military, and domestic intelligence for the United States, has interest in research from the social and behavioral sciences that may be beneficial to the Intelligence Community (IC). To develop a systematic understanding of these potential benefits, ODNI requested that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conduct a decadal survey of the social and behavioral sciences to identify research opportunities that show promise for supporting national security efforts in the next 10 years.
A decadal survey is a method for engaging members of a research community to identify lines of research with the greatest potential utility in the pursuit of a particular goal. The National Academies pioneered this type of survey with a study of ground-based astronomy in 1964.1 Since then, committees appointed by the National Academies have conducted more than 15 decadal surveys. The Decadal Survey of Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security represents the first opportunity to apply this approach to the social and behavioral sciences.
Its purpose is to develop an understanding of the lines of research in these fields that offer the greatest potential to enhance the capabilities of the IC. To carry out this work, the National Academies appointed the Committee on the Decadal Survey of Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security (Decadal Survey Committee); the committee’s charge appears in Appendix A.
The Decadal Survey Committee has pursued many avenues in collecting information about the needs of the IC and relevant cutting-edge research in the social and behavioral sciences. As part of its information-gathering process, the committee held a series of six workshops—the first three on October 11, 2017, and the second three on January 24, 2018.2 These workshops, for which planning began early in the committee process, were designed to explore areas about which the committee wished to learn more and to allow the committee to engage with a broad range of experts. The topics selected for the workshops do not necessarily indicate the ultimate direction of the committee’s deliberations. The six topics addressed by the workshops were
- changing sociocultural dynamics and implications for national security;
- emerging trends and methods in international security;
- leveraging advances in social network thinking for national security;
- learning from the science of cognition and perception for decision making;
- workforce development and intelligence analysis; and
- understanding narratives for national security purposes.
Separate steering committees, whose membership included both members of the Decadal Survey Committee and additional experts in the topics to be addressed, were appointed to plan these workshops. Each of these committees was guided by its own charge. All were asked to bring their expertise to bear in identifying specific areas of promising research and experts with deep knowledge who could offer a range of insights.
This Proceedings of a Workshop, prepared by the workshop rapporteur, summarizes the presentations and discussions at the first workshop, on changing sociocultural dynamics and implications for national security.3 This workshop was planned by the Steering Committee on Changing Sociocultural Dynamics and Implications for National Security, whose charge is
3 The archived Webcast of the workshop and available presentations can be found at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BBCSS/DBASSE_181265 [November 2017].
presented in Box 1-1. The workshop’s purpose was to explore the current state of the science regarding culture, language, and behavior with respect to the national security context. It should be noted that the steering committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop, and that the views contained in this proceedings are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the steering committee, or the National Academies. The agenda for the workshop appears in Appendix B; a list of individuals who attended the three workshops held on October 11, 2017, is presented in Appendix C; and biographical sketches of the committee members and speakers are provided in Appendix D.
In an opening session for the three October 11, 2017, workshops, the chair of the Decadal Survey Committee, Paul Sackett, University of Minnesota, and sponsor representative David Honey, ODNI, provided background information on the objectives for the six workshops.
Sackett noted that the Decadal Survey Committee will rely heavily on input from experts in the communities of national security and behavioral and social science research. Given the breadth of the committee’s charge, he explained, it must cast a wide net, extending well beyond the specific expertise of its members. He described the six workshops as an important part of the effort to gather ideas. The workshops would support the committee by helping to identify promising research areas and allowing the
committee members to engage in discussion with experts in a wide range of areas salient to its work.4
Honey expressed appreciation to all those contributing to the committee’s work through the workshops and other activities, noting that the participation of the full range of experts in the intelligence and behavioral and social science communities would be needed to make the decadal study successful. Making predictions about future directions for research is difficult, he acknowledged, but in his view it is necessary. He noted that the final report of the Decadal Survey Committee will be “a very powerful tool” for government officials who must make decisions regarding funding and other priorities. The decadal model, he explained, “offered the best opportunity” to identify research directions and priorities that reflect a wide range of insights and perspectives. “Decision makers are really asking much deeper and more probing questions today than we’ve seen before,” he said. “They really want to know why surprising movements such as the Arab Spring [uprisings that began in 2010] occur. The national security community is eager for new ways to understand such events and how to respond to them, and also for better ways to assess their interventions after the fact.” Honey thanked the participants for contributing, emphasizing that their ideas would be “crucial for getting us where we need to go.”
INTRODUCTION TO THE WORKSHOP ON CHANGING SOCIOCULTURAL DYNAMICS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
Steering committee chair Jeffrey Johnson, University of Florida, opened the workshop by noting that multiple perspectives are essential for advancing methodology in the study of sociocultural dynamics over the coming decade. To set the stage for discussion of the new research frontiers brought together for this workshop, Joy Rohde, University of Michigan, provided an overview of ethical considerations for digital research in the social and behavioral sciences. She remarked that although new computer technology and the vast amounts of data it can provide offer unprecedented opportunities to measure culture, linguistics, and behavior in new ways, these opportunities also present important ethical challenges. She observed that digital research, which includes “big data,” machine learning, new computing tools, and new data sources, can enhance sociocultural analysis in support of national security. In her view, however, the nature of digital technologies also presents specific ethical challenges: “The scale, the speed, the wide
distribution of monitoring and tracking capabilities as well as the ease and the distance with which we can spread data raises new potentials for risk of harms,” she explained. Such concerns were also raised in the Menlo report5 commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security, she added.
One concern is privacy, Rohde noted. Individual research subjects can possibly be identified even when datasets are anonymized, she explained, because data on people’s behaviors are available on such a granular level. According to Rohde, ethicists increasingly agree that traditional norms and protections for human subjects in social and behavioral science research are insufficient for digital research. Traditional privacy protections have focused on protecting personal identifying or sensitive information. However, Rohde explained, people’s expectations and concerns about their control of records of their personal behavior that are now available vary by context and culture. To illustrate this point, she contrasted expectations of privacy on Twitter and expectations of the privacy of one’s cell phone records or e-mail. Paraphrasing Helen Nissenbaum of New York University, she explained that privacy is the right neither to secrecy nor to control, but rather the right to determine the appropriate flow of personal information.
Digital research also poses special concern with regard to fairness and justice, stated Rohde, because of an imbalance of power in the control of information. She observed that there is a high cost to opting out of using digital services, such as e-mail, so users perceive that they have little choice but to accede to service agreements. Accordingly, she said, service agreements are inconsistent with the premises of traditional informed consent, in which high stakes for nonparticipation are considered unethical. She added that users typically know that information about them is gathered if they use digital services, but they often do not know how this information is used.
Rohde argued that it is important for social and behavioral science researchers to consider these ethical issues because the judgments they reach and the way they categorize behavior can have a material effect on people’s lives and well-being. Therefore, she asserted, researchers have an obligation to use methods that are verifiable and sound. Beyond these concerns, she added, are particular concerns with conducting social and behavioral science research in the context of national security. The public is concerned about surveillance, she noted, and failure to take these concerns seriously can have a chilling effect on research and erode public trust both in research and in the IC. She urged workshop participants to “think about all the
5 Dittrich, D., and Kenneally, E. (2012). The Menlo Report: Ethical Principles Guiding Information and Communication Technology Research. Technical Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
possibilities of big data and how we can design and carry out social and behavioral science research in ways that address these ethical concerns.”
This proceedings follows the structure of the workshop. Chapter 2 summarizes the presentations and discussion in the first workshop panel, which addressed how research using big data can shed light on culture, language, and behavior, with a focus on links between recent developments in the quantitative measurement of culture and the work of experts in social computing and computational social science.6 The presentations and discussion summarized in Chapter 3 examined strategies for linking different types of research that can contribute to understanding these phenomena, bringing several perspectives to two challenges for cultural, linguistic, and behavioral research: multiple-method (or triangulation) and multiple-site (replication) research designs. In his introductory remarks, Johnson noted that these two approaches are increasingly being used across the behavioral and social sciences and hold potential for meaningful progress in distinguishing features that are unique to individual cultures from those that are universal. Finally, Chapter 4 turns to the presentations and discussion on the challenge of working across multiple levels of analysis. In describing this panel, Johnson observed that social and behavioral science researchers may focus on individuals or social groups from small units up to the level of societies, and that working at different levels requires different types of analyses and tools. He added that working in the national security context, in which traditional fieldwork is rarely practical, poses an additional challenge.
6 “Computational social science” refers to the academic subdisciplines concerned with computational approaches to the social sciences, which means that computers are used to model, simulate, and analyze social phenomena. Social computing is an area of computer science that is concerned with the intersection of social behavior and computational systems. It is based on creating or re-creating social conventions and social contexts through the use of software and technology.