Below I have posted the letter that I wrote and forwarded to my U.S. representative and senators.
I am alarmed to hear that the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice & Science is considering eliminating or severely cutting back the directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic (SBE) Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). In particular, the SBE funds a program called “Science, Technology & Society” from which many of my colleagues and I have received funds to perform research here at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY and throughout New York state. This interdisciplinary program funds work by historians, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists and others who are looking at issues of science and technology in society.
Science and Technology Studies (STS) was recently described by the National Research Council as an emerging field. Those who apply for grants from the Science, Technology & Society program at NSF SBE are often housed in academic units with names such as “Science and Technology Studies” (i.e. Rensselaer, Cornell, and Virginia Tech), “History and Philosophy of Science”(i.e. Stanford, Notre Dame), or, “History, Technology and Society” (i.e. Georgia Tech). These interdisciplinary academic units are known for: (1) training graduate students in advanced STS theory from the past 30+ years of research; (2) training science and engineering undergraduate students in how to evaluate the often complex social and ethical implications of their work.
It is important to note that the research of my colleagues often directly informs their teaching of science and engineering undergraduates. One major example of this is a long-term NSF study (#9711830 and #9818207) for “An STS Focus on Design.” While the details of what was funded by this study are unknown to me (as it was before my entry into the STS graduate program here at Rensselaer) I am very familiar with the results which include a special issue in the MIT journal Design Issues in 2004 and many accolades by Businessweek (Oct 15 2007) and others for the Design Innovation and Society undergraduate major at Rensselaer. The Design Innovation and Society major requires that students complete many Product Design and Innovation studio courses that are co-taught by faculty in STS, Architecture, Management, and Mechanical Engineering. Undergraduate students that have majored in Design Innovation and Society have gone on to found local businesses in New York State such as Ecovative Design LLC. Ecovative Design was founded in 2007 and creates sustainable packaging and other products from mushrooms. Ecovative Design went from winning Oxford University's 21st Century Challenge (among other prestigious domestic and international competitions for startups) to more recently attracting investment from 3M, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the DOEN Foundation in order to scale up its manufacturing in Green Island, NY.
The research of my colleagues has also directly informed U.S. science and technology policy-making. Professor Roger Pielke Jr in the environmental studies department at University of Colorado at Boulder has offered testimony on issues of climate change to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (March 2002, May 2002), the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform (July 2006, January 2007), and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology (May 2007). Professor Langdon Winner in STS at Rensselaer has testified about the social and ethical implications of nanotechnology before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science (April 2003). Professor Edward J. Woodhouse in STS at Renssealer has testified about green chemistry before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science (March 2004). Dr. Shobita Parthasarathy (a graduate of STS at Cornell) offered a declaration (August 24, 2009) that was heavily quoted by district court Judge Sweet in the decision about Myriad Genetics in New York state.
Other examples of research funded by the NSF directorate SBE here at Rensselaer that have the potential to directly inform U.S. science and technology policy include: (1) the doctoral dissertation improvement grant given to my colleague Dr. Aalok Khandekar for his work on 'technomigration' of Indians in information technology and engineering and the federal laws that regulate 'brain circulation' between India, New York state and California, (NSF #0848540); (2) the doctoral dissertation improvement grant given to my colleague Dr. Nathan Fisk for his work in New York state on cyberbullying in elementary schools, (NSF #0957028); (3) the doctoral dissertation improvement grant given to my colleague Ph.D. Candidate Anna Lamprou for her work in the U.S. (on TSCA) and the E.U. (on REACH) in order to understand how nanotechnology and other toxic chemicals are regulated considering the complexity of their interactions with the environment and the human body (NSF #1027074); (4) the summer research assistantships completed by myself and 7 colleagues in 2010, which resulted in the 300+ page white paper “Building Clean-Energy Industries and Green Jobs” that looked at supply-side policies for creating jobs and clean energy industry across many cities and states in the U.S. including New York state, (NSF #0947429).
In trying to show the importance of the SBE directorate to the mission of NSF “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense”, I have focused on the research that I am familiar with out of the SBE Science, Technology & Society program. However, I am sure that there are many other examples of SBE funded research that directly impacts public policy for the U.S. or indirectly impacts U.S. national health, prosperity, and welfare.
The human sciences help us to understand where we have been and how we can best move forward. I argue that while budget cuts may be necessary, cutting the funding for programs in the human sciences is not the best solution.
Logan Dawn April Williams
Ph.D. Candidate, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
M.S. Mechanical Engineering from University of Colorado at Boulder
B.S. Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University