Q & A with Arthur “Skip” Lupia, NSF

October 9, 2019

Dr. Arthur Lupia is Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation. In that capacity, he serves as head of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE). He also serves the Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan and as co-chair of the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Subcommittee on Open Science. Prior to arriving at NSF, he served as Chairperson of the Board for the Center for Open Science, as chair of the National Academies Roundtable on the Communication and Use of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and as a leader of many scientific advisory boards.

What was the motivation for the recent programmatic changes in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE)?

As described in the “Dear Colleague Letter” that announced the changes, NSF’s SBE Directorate operates from the premise that the social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences have a tremendous impact on quality of life. With increasingly rigorous methods and an increasingly diverse workforce, SBE-supported researchers are making transformative advances in many areas.

SBE sciences are critical to addressing nearly every major challenge we face today, from unemployment to terrorism, from the spread of infectious disease to the roots of violence, from the risks of natural hazards to man-made threats, and from entrepreneurial economic development to enhanced quality of life and well-being. SBE discoveries are helping us improve education and health outcomes, better serve communities in need, and enhance our understanding of one another.

At NSF, we are working to create as many opportunities as possible for research that advances science and improves quality of life. Upon engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, we found that the value of some of our programs was not apparent to many stakeholders. So, we looked for ways to make the value more apparent. This is a common endeavor at NSF.

The repositioning that resulted from these interactions will help maintain an effective, flexible, and dynamic approach to funding as much breakthrough science as possible. It will also help SBE researchers better connect their basic research plans to pressing national priorities, and make the value of basic research in the SBE sciences more apparent to a wider set of stakeholders.

Why the addition of Augmented Intelligence to the Science of Learning program?

The Science of Learning program has been a great success. The Science of Learning Centers, in particular, produced many important new insights. That centers program has ended. We have been looking for a way to build upon its success. The concept of Augmented Intelligence plays this role. We offer Augmented Intelligence as a complement to Artificial Intelligence. Where Artificial Intelligence typically entails using code and algorithms to replace human reasoning, Augmented Intelligence entails using knowledge of various kinds of learning contexts (including those that build from code and algorithms) and interpersonal relationships to empower human reasoning. Where development of the Artificial Intelligence sometimes ignores “the human factor”, the Augmented Intelligence represented in the Science of Learning and Augmented Intelligence program puts human factors at center stage. We believe that this approach signals exciting new directions for research in this area.

How will these changes impact what science is funded in the repositioned programs?

Our hope is that the long run impact of this repositioning will be an ability to support much more of this science. The new program descriptions and solicitations are also meant to encourage researchers to develop innovative proposals whose scientific merit and broader impact are increasingly apparent to more people. If more people are able to immediately see the clear link between the research we support and the value this research creates in society, we believe it will create more opportunities in the SBE fields.

Any other changes in the works?

While SBE has no immediate plans to change our other standing (core) programs, we will continue to engage our scientific communities and shape our programs to respond to the evolution of the SBE sciences.

We are working on ways to create many more research opportunities at colleges and universities where members of historically underrepresented groups are numerous.

We are working to help more SBE researchers understand the opportunities present in NSF’s Big Ideas and to encourage them to write great interdisciplinary proposals in these domains.

We are working with a range of organizations on potential partnership ideas. We are seeking partners who share our public service mission and who have assets, or are part of networks, that are complementary to ours. We believe that there are organizations that can help more people benefit more effectively from the types of research that we fund. Strategic partnerships are one way to help us deliver such benefits.

What can FABBS members do to help demonstrate the value of SBE-funded research?

The National Science Foundation and the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences very much appreciate the great work that scientific societies and professional organizations do. Your work affects so many people, in this country and around the world.

In addition to publishing and otherwise giving effective and accurate presentations of your work, try to think about the people who are at the end of our workflows. Real lives are impacted by the work SBE researchers do. When we focus on those lives and how people are able to overcome obstacles or seize opportunity thanks to research, we are able ourselves to connect more strongly to the true value of science. There are dynamic and diverse ways that SBE research makes a difference. With this knowledge, we can better articulate the benefits of research and we may even become aware of new ways that our work can serve others.

Additional information on Dr. Lupia:

Dr. Lupia’s research and related public work examines processes, principles, and factors that guide decision-making and learning. His efforts clarify how people make decisions, and choose what to believe, when they lack information or face adverse circumstances. Lupia draws from mixes of mathematics, statistics, neuroscience, economics, psychology and other scientific disciplines to advance these topics. His work on civic competence, information processing, how voters learn and science communication has influenced scholarly practice, public policy, and classroom teaching in many countries.

Dr. Lupia has been a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, a Andrew Carnegie Fellow, and is a recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of Rochester and his social science PhD at the California Institute of Technology.