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This question has guided the Social Science Research Council’s Task Force.Following eighteen months of consultation with key players as well as internal deliberation, we have identified both long-term developments and present threats that have created challenges for the social sciences, but also created unique opportunities.
With the right realignments, the security of social knowledge lies within our reach.
Two recent events have highlighted the challenges facing the social sciences.
Though this report focuses principally on the United States, the issues it addresses resonate in other parts of the world as well.
The Task Force consulted many constituencies and conducted intensive internal discussions over the course of eighteen months (see the appendix regarding the consultation process).
It chronicles changes to the post–World War II institutional framework that helped launch today’s social science, explores the current research ecosystem and how it has been destabilized, and proceeds to identify five key areas for thoughtful intervention: The United States possesses a vibrant system for social science research.
Built during the second half the twentieth century, it connects universities, government institutions, firms, and foundations.
Several decades ago, these institutions had clear zones of responsibility in producing social knowledge, with the federal government constituting the largest portion of funding for basic research.
Today, private companies represent an increasingly large share not just of research and funding, but also the production of data that informs the social sciences, from smart phone usage to social media patterns.
In addition, today’s social scientists face unprecedented demands for accountability, speedy publication, and generation of novel results.
These pressures have emerged from the fragmented institutional foundation that undergirds research.