The University Record, March 11, 1998

Social science, policy making focus of ISR anniversary symposium

From the Institute for Social Research

"Social Science and Policy Making" is the focus of a national symposium Friday-Saturday (March 13-14) at the Rackham Building, one of the many activities marking the 50th anniversary of the Institute for Social Research (ISR). The free program is open to all interested faculty, staff, students and other members of the community.

The program has several aims, according to ISR Director David Featherman. One is to develop a fuller historical account of the evolution of the social and behavioral sciences, especially in the United States from the late 19th century to the present, within the framework of their use in policy-making and in serving the public interest.

"Such an account," Featherman notes, "is likely to emphasize not only the role of government as a user of social scientific data and concepts in shaping or evaluating policy, but also the impact of government, as well as private foundations and philanthropy, in stimulating the growth and focusing the attention of research and scientific personnel." A second aim is to examine the uses and misuses--as well as the failures and refusals to use--of social and behavioral science in policy-making.

Symposium participants will focus on three topical areas in this examination: early childhood education, social security and the aging society, and state and federal welfare reform.

"The interaction of science-making and policy-making involves two-way influences that can vary because of institutional practices and arrangements," Featherman notes. "Understanding those influences and the interactions offers a third aim, and we plan to compare these relationships within Europe to those in the United States."

Also pertinent to the third aim, Featherman notes, is the process of policy-making, which, even if only because it is a political process, "introduces potential discontinuities and distortions in the use of information, including research-based information."

The symposium is organized around a series of panels that will focus on a commissioned scholarly paper, with discussion first by several commentators, followed by discussion among the commentators and the author. This final discussion is intended to draw together major insights, clarify unresolved issues and identify points of disagreement as opportunities for further scholarly progress.

ISR anticipates assembling the papers and commentaries into an edited book that will be a tangible remembrance of the anniversary year activities.

A brief look at the schedule follows. For more information, call Gwen Maes, 764-9262, or visit the Web at

March 13

"A History of Social Science, Societal Reform and Public Policy," 1-3 p.m.

"Early Childhood Education Policy and Uses/Misuses of Social Science," 3:15-4 p.m.

March 14

"Welfare Reform and the Uses/Misuses of Social Science," 9-11 a.m.

"Social Security, the Graying of Society and Uses/Misuses of Social Science," 11:15 a.m.-1 p.m.

"Social Science Research and Policy-Making as Processes," 2:15-4 p.m.