A Note from Executive Director Tom Kecskemethy: An Opportunity
To me, some of the most hopeful statistics reported since President Biden’s inauguration have to do with cable news primetime viewership. That CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News have all seen substantial slides in their primetime ratings is an indication that the American public may be taking a well-deserved deep breath after a protracted period of increasingly tribal partisanship, perhaps not backing down from partisan positions, but at least paying a little bit less attention to political theater and provocateurs.
I take the current moment as a propitious one. I like to believe that a less visible, less bombastic chief executive who fills the news cycle with gigantic, provocative policy proposals (not a gigantic personality) elicits a different kind of public discourse: one that is more concerned with the content of ideas than with the ways in which ideas are stated. If my hypothesis is true, there lies within this moment a call to action for the social science community that is as urgent as the calls to action that spurred the formation of our Academy 132 years ago and the formation of COSSA four decades ago. AAPSS—a product of the early progressive era—was founded by frustrated scholars who wished to see the burgeoning social sciences focus more on practical social problems than on academic concerns. COSSA—a product of the political movement that would come to be known as the Reagan revolution—was founded by organizational leaders who were so concerned by disproportionate cuts to social research budgets in the NSF that they formed an advocacy organization to defend the credibility of our sciences in national government.
Today, funding for social research at the federal level has stayed relatively stable, COVID has actually spurred some promising investments in social and behavioral research, and the broader academic and science community is more interested than ever in learning about insights that social and behavioral science has on offer. Our moment is more about the extent to which the social sciences can meet the public and political zeitgeist with high-quality, accessible, salient work that is a nonpartisan antidote to toxic tribalism. The natural sciences have, over the years, helped human beings to understand the world around them in ways that provoke wonder and are additive to the human experience. Can the social sciences help human beings to understand ourselves in ways that provoke understanding rather than division? My hope is that they will.
Tom Kecskemethy, AAPSS Executive Director