A Call for Big Thinking Social Scientists

I won’t go into lengthy details about the buffoons, like Senator Tom Coburn, that lament on the poor science coming out of NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economics Directorate, the misguided efforts to rebalance the trillions of dollars of federal deficit on the $255 million SBE budget (roughly 0.02% of the budget for the mathematical inclined), or the need to better link basic and applied research (moving toward Pasteur’s Quadrant of use-inspired or actionable research, which I firmly believe and practice).

Instead, I’m curious about all the news regarding Higgs Boson over the past week.  This is very cool and interesting, the missing link in the Standard Theory and all that.  But my curiosity is the contrasting of this news with that of the previous paragraph.  The funding of Fermilabs, CERN, etc has taken place over the past 30 years and sums to hundreds of billions of dollars.  Don’t get me wrong…the science is exquisite and has a lot of potential benefits.  What I find disconcerting is that the social sciences are sweating a few millions, while the physicists are dreaming up $10 billion projects.  Is it because the Standard Theory is more important?  More important than understanding how and why people cooperate, why wars break out, how to better govern ourselves and resolve collective action dilemmas, understand the economic cycle, or any of the countless other challenges being confronted by social scientists?

I’m not putting the blame on the politicians who have already garnered their 10% approval ratings, although their myopic vision continues to amaze me.  I’m sure not denigrating the natural scientists for their grand ideas.  In this case, I think that a share of the blame needs to land on social scientists for not allowing themselves to dream big, to come up with $1 billion ideas, to push for the urgency to resolve many of the social challenges humanity faces, and for not working towards workable solutions.

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