Toward a More Public Social Science

Note: This essay first appeared as a "Word from the President" in the President's Report (SSRC, 2004), pp. 14-18.
When lawsuits challenged affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan, social scientists contributed to several amicus curiae briefs and an active public debate. Social scientists have also figured prominently in American debates over marriage (including both how to support it and whether to ban some forms of it); over productivity growth, the implications of outsourcing, and other economic issues; and over how to reform a costly and inequitable health care system. Internationally, social scientists have contributed to debates over the environment; globalization; combining growth and equity in economic development; and how free from commercialization and government control the Internet can be.

Each of these is an important instance of “public” social science. And indeed a variety of efforts are underway both to call more attention to the public value of social science and to make sure social science is published in ways that reach broader publics. The American Sociological Association annual meeting this August focused on “public sociology.” A “public anthropology” section has just formed in the American Anthropological Association. Related concerns were part of the “perestroika” agenda for reform of the American Political Science Association. Several associations have either founded or are considering new journals to bring scholarship to a broader public. These efforts are all important.

However, I want to suggest four crucial ingredients of a more public social science that are not always stressed in such discussions...

Toward a More Public Social Science
Calhoun, Craig
Social Science Research Council, 2004
Calhoun, Craig, Toward a More Public Social Science (New York: Social Science Research Council, 2004).