Thursday, December 1, 2011

What does the NSF do? What should it do? Reports from and about the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, and Dec 1 Webinar

What should the National Science Foundation division of Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences be doing? They asked and we answered, and now they're having a webinar to report the results: here's the email announcement.

Dear Colleague:

Just a year ago, we stopped accepting SBE 2020 white papers.  The papers were released to the public in February and now we have completed a report, Rebuilding the Mosaic, which briefly describes the process, some of the themes we identified, and the programmatic implications of what we learned.  The report is available at:, and we expect to host a webinar/town hall on December 1.  The login details are below.

All of your papers contributed to our thinking about the future of research in the SBE sciences, and we continue to be amazed at and grateful for your participation.  I hope that you will take a moment to read the report – all of the papers are listed in Appendix 5.  For the foreseeable future, we also expect to maintain the website (, where the papers can be individually found and downloaded, since the report cannot substitute for the many ideas that you have shared with us and with the American people.

Although I have written to you before to express my appreciation, one more time, let me say:

Thank you.

Myron Gutmann

Directorate for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences
National Science Foundation
Details for participating in the webcast:

Date: December 1 at 11 a.m.
Webcast Title: Rebuilding the Mosaic: Listening to the Future in the SBE Sciences

Dial-in phone number:  888-469-1936
Verbal Passcode: Mosaic

Webcast URL:    (will be active on Dec. 1.)
Webcast username: webcast
Webcast password: mosaic (case sensitive)

Earlier, in a statement to Congress, Dr. Gutmann highlighted some of the tangible benefits derived from market design work that the NSF has supported:

"3.1 SBE research has resulted in measurable gains for the U.S. taxpayer
Matching markets and kidney transplants. Researchers in economics at Harvard University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Boston College have applied economic matching theory to develop a system that dramatically improves the ability of doctors to find compatible kidneys for patients on transplant lists. Organ donation is an example of an exchange that relies on mutual convergence of need. In this case, a donor and a recipient. This system allows matches to take place in a string of exchanges, shortening the waiting time and, in the case of organ transplants, potentially saving thousands of lives.10 Similar matching markets exist in other contexts, for example, for assigning doctors to residencies.
Spectrum auctions. Spectrum auctions have generated $54 billion for the U.S. Treasury between 1994 and 2007 and worldwide revenues in excess of $200 billion. Researchers at Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology, supported by grants from SBE, developed the simultaneous ascending auction mechanism as a technique for auctioning off multiple goods whose values are not fixed but depend on each other. The mechanism was then tested experimentally and further refined before being implemented by the Federal Communications Commission. In this auction, all of the goods are on the selling block at the same time, and open for bids by any bidder. By giving bidders real-time information on the tentative price at each bid stage, bidders can develop a sense for where prices are likely to head and adjust their bids to get the package of goods they want. This process enables "price discovery," helping bidders to determine the values of all possible packages of goods. These auctions not only raise money, but ensure efficient allocation of spectra so that the winners of the auction are indeed the individuals who value the spectra the most. Applied with great benefit for the U.S. taxpayer in the FCC spectrum auctions, this method has also been extended to the sale of divisible goods in electricity, gas, and environmental markets.11"
Here's an earlier post on congressional testimony:

NSF Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences--attack and defense

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