Publication Date

September 1, 2010

Perspectives Section


Submissions must reach by September 30, 2010

In an attempt to frame innovative research in the long run (for 2020 and beyond) that would enhance fundamental knowledge and benefit society, the Directorate for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation is inviting individuals and groups to contribute white papers outlining grand challenge questions that are both foundational and transformative. They are foundational in the sense that they are expected to reflect deep issues that engage fundamental assumptions behind disciplinary research traditions and are transformative because they will seek to leverage current findings to unlock a new cycle of research. These white papers will be expected to advance the division’s mission to study human characteristics and human behaviors in its Social and Economic Sciences and Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences divisions, as well as to become the nation’s resource for understanding the structure and development of science through its Science Resources Statistics division.

These white papers must:

  • Explain the challenge question, capability to be created, or scientific strategy; provide context in terms of recent research results and standing questions in the field; suggest the range of disciplines that may contribute, and indicate the implications for future research within and across disciplines.
  • Limit the white paper to 2,000 words with an abstract of not more than 200 words, and up to three references to relevant readings.
  • Include a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license ( so that the material may be made widely available through the web.
  • Arrive by September 30, 2010, in a Microsoft Word-compatible format. Submit to:

Myron Gutmann, a historian who works in the fields of historical demography and human interactions with the environment, and who now heads the Directorate for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, has explained (in a “Dear Colleague” letter, from which most of the material for this news story has been taken) the rationale for this innovative and timely project thus:

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the social, behavioral, and economic sciences face extraordinary opportunities to address next-generation research challenges. The landscape is vast and complex, stretching across temporal and spatial dimensions and multiple levels of analysis—from studying the human brain to implications of decision making in a dynamic and fragmented yet interconnected world. This request is part of a process that will help NSF/SBE make plans to support future research. Other activities will include a report by the Directorate’s Advisory Committee about the grand challenges facing the SBE sciences over the next decade and recommendations from the Directorate’s staff. The insights resulting from this process are threefold: They will inform the substance of future research, the capacities to pursue that research, and the infrastructure to enable investigations that will be increasingly interdisciplinary and international and will involve multiple perspectives and intellectual frameworks, differing scales and contexts, and diverse approaches and methodologies.

NSF/SBE plans to use these contributions over the next year to assist in formulating plans that will guide its strategic scientific thinking. Consequently, we anticipate making all abstracts and papers accessible through the SBE 2020 web site. Authors who do not wish to have their papers made available through the web site may restrict access to NSF staff. However, the author(s), title, and abstract will be included in the publicly accessible corpus.

Research is cumulative and progress is at times necessarily incremental. We invite you, now, to step outside of present demands and to think boldly about future promises. We await your contributions to understanding the future of SBE science.

More and more historians, AHA members among them, are working in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary fields, and they may find the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, an increasingly important source of funding. Submitting the white papers called for offers a real opportunity to shape thinking at the NSF—and in the wider world of scholarship—about future projects and frameworks of research, and therefore, of what can and needs to be supported. Historians, along with other scholars, have an opportunity now to share in the shaping the future of social science research.

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