NIH Council of Councils Holds Spring Meeting

On May 20 and 21, the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI) convened for  two days of presentations including many of particular importance to behavioral and cognitive science communities.  

Dr. William Riley, Director of Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research (OBSSR), delivered a report, “Trans-NIH Research Opportunities in the Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences” on behalf of the Working Group on Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (bBSSR). The report identifies promising and emerging areas of bBSSR that are priorities for NIH support, yet not adequately supported by the current NIH bBSSR portfolio. The group also sought to answer the question if current institutes and centers might be able to address the underinvestment, or if recalibration would require a trans-NIH effort.  

Research gaps identified included: 

  • COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the insufficient research base for the social and behavioral processes that influence infectious disease transmission and mitigation. Listing key areas such as— • Adherence to initiating and maintaining public health recommendations • Risk communications • Persuasion • Decision making in uncertainty • This research is applicable beyond COVID-19 to a range of infectious diseases (e.g., flu, measles).   
  •  Gap between individuals and broad social units • Relatively little research on the influence of dyads, families, and small social groups on health • OppNet recently released an FOA on the influence of social connectedness and isolation on health (PAR-21-144). • Clear need for larger trans-NIH investment in this area of research. 
  • Strengthen the incorporation of basic behavioral and social sciences with neuroscience. • Encourage an expanded role for bBSSR in genetics research. • Integrate knowledge generated through animal models and human subjects more readily. • Support skills in interdisciplinary research and team science. 
  •   bBSSR have been leaders in workforce diversity, particularly gender diversity  

Working group members include former FABBS board member Jeff Zacks, Washington University and M. Lynne Cooper, University of Missouri who serves on the board of APA, a FABBS member society. (Presentation and Report) 

Earlier this year, NIH announced UNITE, an initiative established to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community. Marie A. Bernard, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Aging, provided an update on efforts to establish an equitable and civil culture within the biomedical research enterprise and reduce barriers to racial equity in the biomedical research workforce. NIH is facilitating research to identify opportunities, make recommendations, and develop and implement strategies to increase inclusivity and diversity in science. Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity (U01 Clinical Trial Allowed) RFA-RM-21-021 and RFA-RM-21-022 (see the funding opportunity here).  FABBS had provided comments in response to the recent RFI. 

Other presentations of interest included an ‘Introduction to the New Congress’ provided by Adrienne Hallett, NIH Associate Director for Legislative Policy and Analysis. Without going into detail, Ms. Hallett suggested that ‘a few president’s budget initiatives that will excite the research community.’ She also cautioned that COVID science is not over and there is much to learn in the areas of Post Acute Sequelae of COVID, mental and behavioral health and consequences of social isolation, including not being in school for children. Furthermore, we must be asking what we need to know to be prepared for the next pandemic. Ms. Hallett explained that in working with Congress, in addition to sharing findings and advancements in health and discussing the federal investment in research, she spends much of her time fighting restrictions on research, including animal research and foreign influence. 

Lyric Jorgenson, Acting Associate Director for Science Policy, spoke about the NIH Policy for Data Sharing and Management. This has been a long-term NIH effort to advance rigor and reproducible research by supporting improved data stewardship. FABBS has commented on relevant RFIs. Recognizing that societies have a unique role in bringing awareness of developing practices and supporting the necessary discussions within disciplines to bring their voice to the larger community, FABBS has partnered with sister societies to develop a monthly Data Sharing Seminar Series for Societies. These monthly seminars are held on the first Friday of each month at 10am ET and cover a range of topics to help with data sharing, credit, transparency and more.  Recordings of past session are available here

The Council of Councils also heard from Diana Bianchi, Director, National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD). Dr. Bianchi updated members on the NICHD strategic plan, which, prior to last year, had not been revisited for 20 years. NICHD was surprised to learn that the institute invests only 57.4 percent of their budget on children and plays an outsized role in maternal health. Prior to the strategic plan, Dr. Bianchi explained that institute spending was very broad and shallow. Now they are moving to a more defined set of priorities to unify investment and asking where does NICHD want to lead and where should they partner? FABBS has closely tracked the strategic planning process and has raised concerns about the more narrow conception of guiding themes. NICHD has long been very supportive of the basic behavioral and social sciences and there has been some concern that this would change with the revision.  The presentation included mention of several current initiatives including STrategies to EnRich Inclusion and AchieVe Equity (STRIVE) Initiative, COVID-19 Research in Children and Pregnant Individuals, the Placenta Project and Return to School focusing on testing strategies.