Thursday, December 3, 2015

For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury

Chronicle of Higher Education
Author: Paul Voosen
December 3, 2015

A couple of years ago, as science was deep in a rut of flat federal financing, Roberta B. Ness, vice president for innovation at the University of Texas School of Public Health, toured the country, urging scientists to take on innovative, high-risk research. Such work, though prone to failure, can overturn whole scientific paradigms. Expand assumptions, she said. Change points of view.
Science has always balanced traditional lines of investigation with radical, divergent hypotheses. Follow her methods, she told them, and they could become risk takers themselves.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Clarifying NIH Priorities for Health Economics Research

National Institutes of Health
November 25, 2015

The purpose of this Guide Notice is to clarify NIH policy related to funding health economics research.  This Notice serves to communicate NIH’s priority areas of health economics research as well as research aims that generally fall outside of the NIH mission – to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems, and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.
Applicants and potential applicants for NIH research grants are advised to consult with NIH program officers in Institutes and Centers (IC) appropriate to their proposed topic if they have questions about the alignment of their research with IC program priorities. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Universities Report Continuing Decline in Federal R&D Funding in FY 2014

By Ronda Britt
The National Science Foundation
November 17, 2015

Federal funding of higher education research and development failed to outpace inflation for the third straight year, according to data from the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey. When adjusted for inflation, federal funding for higher education R&D declined by 5.1% between FY 2013 and FY 2014 and has fallen over 11% since its peak in FY 2011. This is the longest multiyear decline in federal funding for academic R&D since the beginning of the annually collected data series in FY 1972.


Monday, November 9, 2015

What Open-Access Publishing Actually Costs

By: Ellen Wexler
The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 9, 2015

In academe, ideas cost money. But how much?
Advocates for open-access journals say that academic research should be free for everyone to read. But even those proponents acknowledge that publishing costs money — the disagreement is over the amount.
The issue was highlighted last month, when all six editors and all 31 editorial-board members resigned from Lingua, a prominent linguistics journal, after a disagreement with the journal’s publisher, Elsevier, over how much libraries and authors should pay.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Spotlight on Research: Harvard Kennedy School’s Faculty Research Working Paper Series

November 5, 2015
By Meghan Guidry

How can the political ideologies of American lawyers be quantifiably measured? What can London’s developmental history teach us about sustainability and policy-making? And how well do middle school math initiatives prepare students for college?

These are just a few of the questions being asked by HKS faculty in the Faculty Research Working Paper Series (FRWP), the Kennedy School’s forum for cutting-edge social research in progress. Since its founding in 2001, the FRWP has published nearly 700 working papers, many of which go on to become books, journal articles, and the foundations of major research initiatives.

While the scholarship and research evident in these papers is a boon to the University, the true power of the series is that it gives researchers the opportunity to share insights on work-in-progress, and to collaborate with colleagues and stakeholders around the world. This real-time collaboration helps generate new insights and new hypotheses across the social sciences by engaging scholars, practitioners, and informed citizens in an ongoing dialogue about the impact of new research.

Take Professor Maya Sen, for instance. Her paper “The Political Ideologies of American Lawyers” was originally published jointly by the FRWP and the University of Chicago. Sen’s ambitious paper offered the first comprehensive study of the political ideologies of American lawyers. But for Sen, getting her research out into the world was only the beginning. “Very astute readers from around the world have emailed us with comments and questions. It's been very productive, very public exchange.” Using reader comments, Sen and her co-authors further revised “The Political Ideologies of American Lawyers,” which is now slated for publication in The Journal of Legal Analysis.

In order to promote new research and scholarship by Kennedy School faculty, the HKS Research Administration Office, in collaboration with the HKS Office of Communications and Public Affairs, has been increasing its efforts to bring new readers to the Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Using the @HKS_Research Twitter handle, the RAO promotes every new working paper to thousands of followers around the world. Coupled with the quarterly Social Science Research Network E-Journal, which showcases six HKS faculty working papers, the RAO hopes to bring even more attention to the cutting-edge research being generated by the HKS faculty.

To learn more about the working paper series, please visit the Faculty Research Working Paper homepage on the Faculty Research Connection. For the latest Faculty Research Papers, please follow HKS Research on Twitter: @HKS_Research.

For more information about the working paper series, or other questions about research publications and dissemination, please contact Meghan Guidry:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Large Foundations Making 'Big Bets' on Social Change

Philanthropy News Digest
November 3, 2015

A growing number of large, national foundations are making "big bets" on structural solutions to complex problems in an effort to bring about lasting social change, the New York Times reports.
Earlier this year, for example, the Ford Foundation announced that it was refocusing its grantmaking — about $500 million annually — on inequality in all its forms, while the Rockefellerand MacArthur foundations announced that they are redoubling their commitments in the areas of climate change, urban resilience, and criminal justice reform. Philanthropic organizations have long supported efforts to alleviate poverty and inequities, of course, but many of the largest increasingly are seeking to address not just the symptoms but the structural causes of those problems — inspired, in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's efforts to not only treat or prevent diseases such as polio and malaria but to eradicate them altogether, the Times suggests.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Accurate Data that Drives Educated Policy Decisions

The National Science Foundation
October 20, 2015

Every day, scientists collect, interpret and analyze data--measuring phenomena in order to understand them. And every day, at the National Science Foundation, there's a dedicated group of people doing its own statistical analyses, studying the organizations, agencies and people that constitute the scientific community.

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) is one of 13 federal statistical agencies, and its role within NSF gives it a unique mission.

"Our main focus is the science and engineering enterprise," says Jeri Mulrow, deputy division director for NCSES. "How many scientists and engineers are there? What are their degrees? What are their fields of study? Where are they employed?"


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Dr. Michael Lauer Selected as Deputy Director for Extramural Research, NIH

September 28, 2015

On September 28, NIH Director Francis Collins announced the selection of Dr. Michael Lauer as the NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, and director of the NIH Office of Extramural Research.
The following is Dr. Collins’s statement announcing Dr. Lauer’s selection:
Dear Colleagues,
I am extremely pleased to announce the selection of Michael S. Lauer, M.D., as the new Deputy Director for Extramural Research.  I have worked closely over the years with Mike on a number of issues related to the NIH and the broader biomedical research community and we are delighted to have him join the NIH leadership team.  He brings both research expertise and administrative skills to the job, as well as keen insights into world of extramural research.  He is expected to begin in this new position within the coming weeks.
Read More... 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Consistent Research Regulations Could Ease the Burden on Scientists, Panel Says

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 22, 2015

Federal regulation "steals from the nation’s investment in research and has become self-defeating," a National Academies panel told Congress on Tuesday. But the burden could be eased through more-uniform federal rules and the creation of a new independent oversight board, the panel said.
The 18-member panel, formed by the National Academy of Sciences in response to a congressional request, produced a 144-page reportdescribing unrelenting growth in both university research and government attempts to quantify and police it. In doing so, the report reiterated previous analyses by the National Science Foundation, theAssociation of American Universities and the Council on Governmental Relations, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Federal Plan to Modernize Medical Trials’ Rules Would Be Boon to Universities

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 2, 2015

After more than four years of work, the finish line appears to be in sight for a governmentwide process to modernize the rules governing human participation in medical trials. The results appear to offer substantial benefits for many university researchers.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a 519-page set of regulations on Wednesday, the result of work with 15 other federal departments and agencies dating to 2011. The document represents the first comprehensive overhaul of the regulations in three decades.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

NSF and USAID Announce Latest Round of Awards to Address Global Development Challenges

August 31, 2015

Building sustainable fisheries, monitoring landslide risk, studying the emerging bioeconomy: these are some of the research projects announced today in the newest round of an interagency partnership to foster collaborative global research.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awards will advance the scientific and technical capacity of the U.S. and countries in critical areas of development. The projects are the latest set ofPartnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) awards, which pair NSF-funded U.S. scientists with researchers in developing countries, who are funded by USAID.


Monday, August 24, 2015

In the NSF's Priciest Grant-Fraud Settlement, Northeastern U. Will Pay $2.7 Million

The Chronicle of Higher Education 
August 21, 2015
Northeastern University has agreed to pay $2.7 million to cover nine years of mishandling federal research funds, in the largest-ever civil settlement with the National Science Foundation.
The case stems from the management of NSF grant money awarded to Northeastern for work at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, from 2001 to 2010. The work was led by a professor of physics, Stephen ­Reucroft.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MacArthur Foundation to Focus on Large-Scale, Solution-Based Programs

Philanthropy News Digest
August 17, 2015

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced a shift in its grantmaking strategy that will see it focus on "solution-driven" approaches to key challenges and a doubling down on its "commitment to help build a world that is more just, verdant, and peaceful."
In an essay in the organization's 2014 annual report, MacArthur Foundation president Julia M. Stasch writes that, in order to create more "transformative impact," the foundation "will work primarily through programs and projects that are larger in scale, time-limited in nature, or designed to reach specific objectives," with "less emphasis on program areas with an indefinite lifespan."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Librarians Leap to the Aid of Researchers Whose Funding Will Soon Depend on Open Access

The Chronicle of Higher Education

As more federal agencies begin requiring grant recipients to make research results freely available to the public, college librarians have taken on a new role: helping researchers comply with open-access rules.
A February 2013 memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said federal agencies with more than $100 million in research-and-development expenditures would have torequire that results be available within a year of publication.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

American Sponsors Cut Ties with Russia

Philanthropy News Digest
July 27, 2015

Citing the recent passage and implementation of laws in Russia that "make it all but impossible for international foundations to operate effectively and support worthy civil society organizations in that country," the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced that it will close its Moscow branch office.

In a similar move, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has announced that it will stop its grantmaking activities there after the foundation was included in a preliminary list of 12 nongovernmental organizations that could be banned from working in Russia.

Read more about the MacArthur Foundation's decision here, and about the Mott Foundation's decision here...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Boom in Academic Poaching is Fueled by Visions of Economic Development

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Sean J. Morrison, professor of pediatrics: $10 million. James P. Allison, professor of immunology: $10 million. Nancy A. Jenkins and Neal G. Copeland, deans of cancer biology and genetics: $7.5 million each.
Such are the hefty recruiting packages that lured four researchers — along with their labs and staffs — to Texas. They’ve joined 80 other leading cancer researchers who have moved to Texas’ universities and institutes over the past five years thanks to a $250-million state-aided spending spree on science superstars.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Damning Revelations Prompt Social Science to Rethink Its Ties to the Military

The Chronicle of Higher Education
July 15, 2015

Subject. Patron. Source. Siren.
For social scientists, the state can play many roles. As long as researchers have studied humanity and the systems we create, they have struggled to define their relationship with power. And in the United States, since World War II, that tension has centered especially on the military and its spy agencies.
The dangers of that relationship came into high relief late last week, with the release of a report detailing how the American Psychological Association, a century-old scholarly group, had colluded with the U.S. military to shield practitioners of torture a decade ago. The report painted a small group of leaders as beholden to its military patrons, eager to "curry favor," whatever the long-term cost.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What are the Chances of Getting Funded?

National Institutes of Health's Extramural Nexus
Dr. Sally Rockey
June 29, 2015

What are the chances of getting funded? We frequently talk about the different ways of analyzing NIH funding. Let's revisit the topic so I can provide you with the latest numbers. 


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Researchers Complain About Changes in Amazon Tool Used for Surveys

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 23, 2015

This week Amazon changed the terms for a service that has become a standard tool in social-science research, and many scholars are complaining that it will mean higher costs to conduct surveys.
The service is called Mechanical Turk, and it is a marketplace that connects people on the Internet looking for paid piecework with anyone who has a small task and is willing to pay someone to do it. The concept is known as crowd-work, and many researchers have used it to pay strangers small amounts to take part in social-science surveys.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Congress May Finally Offer the NIH More Money — at a Price

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 12, 2015

The good news for the National Institutes of Health and its university researchers is that after some 14 years of flat budgets, Congress may be about to loosen the purse strings.
The bad news is that the scientists might not like the terms.
Evidence of a possible break in the budgetary logjam is headed by legislation, expected to reach a floor vote this month in the House of Representatives, that would give the NIH an extra $2 billion a year in each of the next five years.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ford Shifts Grant Making to Focus Entirely on Inequality

June 11, 2015

The fight against inequality will take center stage at the Ford Foundation under a sweeping overhaul announced today by the nation’s second biggest philanthropy.
Not only will Ford direct all of its money and influence to curbing financial, racial, gender, and other inequities, but it will give lots more money in a way grantees have been clamoring for: It hopes to double the total it gives in the form of unrestricted grants for operating support. The doubling of general operating support to 40 percent of the foundation’s grant-making budget, projected to be in excess of $1 billion over five years, will enable Ford to create what its president, Darren Walker, calls a "social-justice infrastructure" reminiscent of the support it provided nonprofits during the civil-rights era.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Studying Politics or Playing Politics? Scholarly Experiments Sometimes Blur the Line

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 5, 2015

Before it fell apart, Michael J. LaCour’s study of political canvassing tactics was timely not just for what he supposedly discovered, but for how he discovered it.
In order to figure out whether gay-marriage advocates could actually change people’s minds about the issue by having brief conversations on their doorsteps, Mr. LaCour, a University of California at Los Angeles graduate student, designed an experiment.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Like Sleeping Beauty, Some Research Lies Dormant for Decades, IU Study Finds

I.U. Bloomington Newsroom
May 25, 2015

Why do some discoveries fade into obscurity while others blaze a new trail the moment they are published? More mysteriously, why do some research papers remain dormant for years and then suddenly explode with great impact upon the scientific community?
The last group, dubbed “sleeping beauties,” is the subject of a new study from the Indiana University Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing's Center for Complex Networks and Systems. It was released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Universities Yelp as Elsevier Pulls Back on Free Access

The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 29, 2015

A blossoming experiment in allowing a form of open-access scientific publishing appears to have hit a roadblock, after the world’s largest journal publisher found that too many universities were moving to take advantage of it.
The publisher, Elsevier, has told universities that have built their own online repositories of journal articles written by their researchers that they now must respect waiting periods typically lasting a year or two before allowing free access to Elsevier-owned content.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Doubts About Study of Gay Canvassers Rattles the Field

New York Times
May 25, 2015

He was a graduate student who seemingly had it all: drive, a big idea and the financial backing to pay for a sprawling study to test it.

In 2012, as same-sex marriage advocates were working to build support in California, Michael LaCour, a political science researcher at theUniversity of California, Los Angeles, asked a critical question: Can canvassers with a personal stake in an issue — in this case, gay men and women — actually sway voters’ opinions in a lasting way?


Monday, May 18, 2015

Latest Figures Show Decline in Federal Funding for R&D, Equipment, Facilities in FY 2013

National Science Foundation
May 14, 2015

Federal agency funding for research and development and R&D plant (facilities and fixed equipment used for R&D) fell by 9 percent in fiscal year 2013, according to a new InfoBrief from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

NCSES found that total federal agency obligations dropped from $141 billion to $127 billion between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013. Funding dropped by 4 percent for research, 14 percent for development and 11 percent for R&D plant, according to the NCSES report.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2 Key Problems for Fracking Research: Not Enough Disclosure, Not Enough Financing

The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 13, 2015

Several Pennsylvania State University researchers contributed to a recent research project that linked hydraulic fracturing to drinking-water contamination. A Syracuse University scientist in a different study of the oil-recovery technique came to the opposite conclusion.
A common thread between the two studies came to light this week, however: Both were brought into question by failures to fully disclose the outside financial interests that could have had an interest in swaying their conclusions.

Monday, May 4, 2015

NSF Freezes Grants to UConn After Professors Bought Equipment From Their Own Company

The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 1, 2015

The National Science Foundation has frozen millions of dollars in grants to the University of Connecticut after auditors found that two professors there used grant money to buy equipment from their own company, The Hartford Courant reports.
The state Auditors of Public Accounts found that the professors, who control a marine sensor and communication technology company, bought $253,000 worth of acoustic modems using NSF funds. The professors told the auditors they did not read a clause on a form they signed indicating there was no financial conflict of interest.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Peer Review Works, Says New Research on Citations and Patents

The Chronicle of Higher Education
April 23, 2015

The peer-review system is often described as the "gold standard" for determining scientific merit. A study published on Thursday gives that belief some empirical affirmation. 

The study shows that success rates of scientific projects, as measured by citations and patents, strongly correlate with the scores those projects were given under the peer-review process at the National Institutes of Health.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Johns Hopkins Faces $1-Billion Lawsuit over U.S. Experiments in Guatemala

The Chronicle of Higher Education
April 2, 2015

Nearly 800 former research subjects and their families filed a billion-dollar lawsuit on Wednesday against the Johns Hopkins University, blaming the institution for its role in U.S.-government experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s that infected hundreds of people with sexually transmitted diseases, The Sun reported.
In an earlier lawsuit, the victims sought to hold top U.S. officials responsible, but a federal judge dismissed that case in 2012. The new lawsuit seeks to hold the university responsible because its doctors held key roles on panels that reviewed and approved federal spending on the experiments. The suit, filed in a state court in Baltimore, also names the Rockefeller Foundation and the drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb as defendants.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Harvard Moves To Open Three New Offices Abroad

The Harvard Crimson
April 1, 2015

Harvard has authorized the formation of three new international offices in Cape Town, Beijing, and Mumbai, with each office in a different stage of development, according to Vice Provost for International Affairs Jorge I. Domínguez.

The Center for African Studies is expected to open an office in Cape Town, South Africa, by the end of 2015 or early 2016, according to Domínguez. An expected office in Beijing would  be connected to the existing Harvard Center Shanghai, and, if approved by the government of India, the Harvard School of Public Health will open an office in Mumbai. These offices would be used for research and academic work for Harvard affiliates in those regions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Increasing Access to the Results of Research Funded by the National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation
March 18, 2015

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the primary Federal agency supporting research at the frontiers of knowledge, across all fields of science and engineering (S&E) and all levels of S&E education. On February 22, 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum, Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research, 1 which directs Federal agencies with more than $100 million in research and development (R&D) expenditures per year to develop plans to make publicly available to the “greatest extent and with the fewest constraints possible and consistent with law” the “direct results of federally funded scientific research.” This document sets forth NSF’s plan for reaching the objectives laid out in the OSTP memorandum through an open, flexible, and incremental approach that ultimately will: 

  • Integrate publications, data, and other products of NSF funding into a single management system. 
  • Build on current policies and practices.
  • Leverage resources in other Federal agencies, universities and research institutes, and the private sector.
  • Provide a platform for innovation.
  • Broaden access to NSF-funded research findings with necessary and appropriate safeguards.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Intellectual Piecework: Platforms like Mechanical Turk Pose New Ethical Dilemmas

Nathan Schneider, Chronicle of Higher Education
February 16, 2015

Nowadays, Alfredo García studies graffiti. His dissertation in sociology at Princeton University is an ethnography of a changing Miami neighborhood, which means he spends his time chatting up strangers, arranging interviews, and climbing ladders with street artists. But during his second year at Princeton, in 2012, he tried something else. With a bit of out-of-pocket money, he surveyed 420 people about how looking at different kinds of fake Facebook profiles affected their views about Islam. He obtained clear statistical findings and produced a paper that is now under review at a respected journal. In the process he didn’t meet a single one of his subjects; not one of them was a Princeton undergraduate required to take surveys for a class.
Mr. García used Mechanical Turk, an platform that describes itself as "artificial artificial intelligence." What it offers has been called crowd-work, or digital piecework, or crowdsourcing—thousands of people around the world sitting at their computers and doing discrete tasks for pay. Each of Mr. García’s subjects earned a quarter for filling out a survey less than 10 minutes long—$1.50 an hour, that is.  Read more

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Win Funds, Scientists Pursue Sweeping Solutions to Social Ills

Paul Voosen, Chronicle of Higher Education
February 9, 2015

When President Obama called for a $215-million "precision medicine initiative" in his State of the Union speech last month, he was behaving very much like a politician of his times. This was mission-driven research, squarely aimed at solving society’s ills—in this case, by tailoring cures to individuals. This was not science for the sake of discovery—the "endless frontier," as the architect of U.S. science policy after World War II, Vannevar Bush, termed it. This was utilitarian. There was a promise of applied results.

Over the past decade, these promises have repeatedly been made in the name of "grand challenges." Often invoking the Apollo program, philanthropies and governments have urged researchers to pursue scientific solutions to specific societal problems. The United States, Canada, India, and Brazil have all embraced grand challenges, and the European Union has made solving "societal challenges" a pillar of its research agenda. Challenges abound.  Even as such mission-driven research has grown in scale and ambition, its ends have become increasingly specific, several science-policy researchers and historians say. Basic science is still supported under the mantle of applied work—see the National Institutes of Health—but it feels like the idea of science for discovery’s sake has lost nearly all its gravity.  Read more

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

NSF FY2016 Budget Request Continues Commitment to Discovery, Innovation and Learning

National Science Foundation
February 2, 2015

Today, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova outlined President Obama's fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request to Congress for NSF. The FY16 request calls for $7.7 billion for NSF, an increase of $379 million over FY15, which is an increase of 5.2 percent.

The budget request includes support for new approaches to research on sustainability, global climate, the food-energy-water nexus, cognitive science and neurosciences, and risk and resilience. It promotes advanced manufacturing research and clean energy activities and sustains investments in cybersecurity research. It also supports a range of investments in developing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, including new efforts to broaden participation in STEM fields.  Read more

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Steps to Enhance Transparency and Accountability at the National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation
January 13, 2015
Over the last year, the National Science Foundation has taken new steps to enhance transparency and accountability. This notice focuses on efforts to clarify NSF's award abstracts, which serve a different purpose than the project summary that is submitted as part of a proposal.

Effective December 26, 2014, NSF's updated Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 15-1) includes the following statement about award abstracts: "Should a proposal be recommended for award, the PI (Principal Investigator) may be contacted by the NSF Program Officer for assistance in preparation of the public award abstract and its title. An NSF award abstract, with its title, is an NSF document that describes the project and justifies the expenditure of Federal funds."  Read more

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Big-Data Scientists Face Ethical Challenges After Facebook Study

Paul Vooson, Chronicle of Higher Education
December 15, 2014
Though it may not feel like it when you see the latest identity-affirming listicle shared by a friend on Facebook, we are a society moving toward evidence. Our world is ever more quantified, and with such data, flawed or not, the tools of science are more widely applied to our decisions. We can do more than observe our lives, the idea goes. We can experiment on them.

No group lives that ethos more than the life-hacking coders of Silicon Valley. Trading on Internet-wired products that allow continuous updates and monitoring, programmers test their software while we use it, comparing one algorithmic tweak against another—the A/B test, as it’s known. As we browse the web, we are exposed to endless manipulations. Many are banal—what font gets you to click more?—and some are not.

Last summer the technologists discovered how unaware everyone else was of this new world. After Facebook, in collaboration with two academics, published a study showing how positive or negative language spreads among its users, a viral storm erupted. Facebook "controls emotions," headlines yelled. Jeffrey T. Hancock, a Cornell University professor of communications and information science who collaborated with Facebook, drew harsh scrutiny. The study was the most shared scientific article of the year on social media. Some critics called for a government investigation.  Read more