Q&A with Dr. Susan Fiske

Founding Editor of Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (PIBBS)

The PIBBS journal publishes invited articles, from FABBS member societies, that present brief reviews of behavioral and brain scientific findings relevant to public policy. The goal of this journal is to provide a vehicle for scientists to share research findings to help build sound policies and be a resource for policy and decision makers looking for digestible research to inform policies and practices.

PIBBS challenges behavioral and brain scientists to seriously consider the complexity of translating research to implementation, so that the needs of society can be addressed.

Launched in 2014 by founding Editor Susan T. Fiske, PIBBS was recently a finalist for a PROSE (Professional and Scholarly Excellence) Award in the category of the best new journal in social sciences. Below is a Q&A with Dr. Fiske, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and Professor of Public Affairs, Princeton University and former FABBS board President.

What inspired you to develop this journal?

PIBBS invites basic scientists to take seriously the policy implications of their work. In brief, pithy reviews, they write for an educated audience, as honest brokers for what the science can (and cannot yet) tell us about how to make the world a better place.

How does it differ from other journals?

PIBBS works from the science to novel policy insights and it does so across the whole spectrum of behavior and brain sciences.

Can you tell us a little bit about the volume released earlier this month?

Cognitive science has clear implications for so many policy domains: for example, more effective teaching, which makes sense, as its expertise is mental processes. But cognitive science also informs science communication—taking into account the audience’s cognitive perspectives; we know how to help people make sense of data in health and science, in national intelligence and security, and even in open-science efforts. Policy also benefits from understanding how people make choices about risk, alcohol, or any complex decision. Finally, in both the law and the media, cognitive science offers insights about how people deal with accurate and false information. This volume offers a rich array of policy insights.

Can you provide an example of a policy that has benefited from including cognitive and behavioral research?

Among dozens of examples, one of the best-known is leveraging default choices–which leads people to saving more for retirement. Automatically enrolling workers in savings programs – often with employer matching – then allowed them to opt out, rather than requiring them to opt in to participate. The research lead to 2006 federal legislation requiring firms to make enrollment in such plans the default. Another example mentioned in an NAS report on the value of behavioral sciences at NSF would improve air travel safety. It isn’t enough for technology to improve; safety depends on the human crew and their training. Many aspects of team dynamics, leadership, and interpersonal communications can increase safety. The airline industry used this basic research, combined with applied research conducted in cockpit simulators and analyses of actual cockpit flight recordings, to develop a -now widely used – training program called crew resource management or cockpit resource management (CRM).

Can you give us an example of a particularly rewarding outcome of PIBBS?

The enthusiasm of member societies and their authors suggests the journal is timely and needed. Being a finalist for the PROSE Award is also gratifying.

From your perspective, what has been the most challenging – or biggest growth opportunity – for authors featured in this unique journal format?

Going outside their comfort zone by writing for smart, regular people. Also, resisting the policy prescription simply to fund more research. We carry more weight if we come to inform, not to supplicate.

Any advice for behavioral and brain scientists who want their work to be policy relevant?

Think about what’s useful, who can use it, how they can implement it, and which stakeholders will support or oppose these ideas.  Then be an honest broker: Write for both sides.