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Vol.26, No. 06 Oct. 16, 2000

Lisa Anderson, Dean of SIPA, Delivers Annual Schoff Memorial Lectures

By Abigail Beshkin

Lisa Anderson, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, delivered the first of this year’s Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures, on Oct. 23, on “The American History of Scientific Policy and Policy-Making.”

The talk was the first of three Schoff lectures which Anderson will deliver on the changing relationship between social science research and public policy.

In her talk, Anderson discussed the history of social science and public policy and how their relationship evolved with the growth of the modern welfare state and the U.S. rise to world power. The modern discipline of social science, of collecting information on patterns of public and private life, was once used to carry out the affairs of the state; a census count, for instance, would indicate how many citizens owed taxes.

“As sovereignty slipped from the crown to the people, what had been an apparatus serving the ruler transformed into a public bureaucracy whose purpose was not only to monitor but to enhance the welfare of society,” Anderson said.

But in the last two decades, said Anderson, the significance of government both in making public policy decisions and supporting the social science research used to make these decisions has begun to diminish. The era of globalization, with more public policy being made in the private sector, has begun to raise important questions about the relationship between social science research and public policy decisions.

“Public policy is less and less associated with its classic locus in government,” she said, noting that now policy decisions often originate with private-sector consultants, not-for-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations. “How have the ideas, the assumptions and the methods of the social sciences permeated the cultures and societies? If we remove the state as the point of contact between the social sciences and public policy, how will they interact and shape the formulation of policy and the development of social science in the future?”

The remaining two Schoff lectures will be delivered at the same time and place, Monday, Oct. 30, and Monday, Nov. 13.

In her next lectures, “A Marketplace of Ideas: Social Science and Public Policy Beyond Government,” and “Global Public Policy and International Social Science,” Anderson will tackle the notion that the significance of government in both making public policy and supporting social science research is diminishing, and explore how this shift will reshape the relationship between social science and policy.