Partial government shutdown impacts psychological science

What does it mean for those seeking research grants?

As you have no doubt heard, parts of the federal government currently lack appropriations and are shut down.  Thankfully for many psychological scientists, this does not include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as most of the Department of Health and Human Services was funded and given its FY2019 budget in September 2018.  So despite what you may have heard or read on social media, NIH is open and operational, accepting proposals and awarding grants.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the National Science Foundation (NSF).  NSF is shut down, its building closed, and its federal staff furloughed.  However, the proposal and review online platform, Fastlane, is still operational and due dates for proposal submissions are still in effect. 

NSF programs such as Social Psychology, Developmental Sciences, and Linguistics all have mid-January target dates, so proposals to those programs are coming in with no one to receive them.  Depending on how long the partial shutdown goes on, the review process for these proposals might be significantly truncated.  Dates for panel reviews have already been set, and NSF program directors can be expected to aim to keep those dates, giving them less time to secure expert external reviews and giving panelists less time to do their work.  No matter when NSF receives its FY2019 funding, it only has until September 31 to spend it, so program directors will make sure that they review proposals and process awards as best and as quickly as they can. 

If you are asked by an NSF program director to review a proposal this spring, consider saying yes even if the timeline is tight.  Your contribution can help NSF to maintain its high standards of peer review under less-than-ideal circumstances.

If you submitted a proposal to NSF in the last round and are still waiting to hear what happened to your proposal, be prepared to wait some more.  Until program directors have a budget to spend, no funding decisions can be made. Or maybe you have been told that your proposal will be funded.  As there is no one there to do the administrative and financial review, the award process has ground to a halt. 

For those who submitted to the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) back in October, be prepared for a delay in the review process.  The GRFP review system does not use Fastlane and is shutdown.  So no reviews of GRFP proposals can occur at this time. 

Other federal agencies that fund psychological science are also shut down, including the National Institute of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. (Meanwhile, the Institute of Education Sciences, Defense Department and other agencies are open.) Make sure you visit agency websites, including NSF’s, for the latest information on the partial shutdown and its impacts on research funding agencies.

Developmental milestones – The ABCD study comes of age

Psychologists play pivotal role in landmark study.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study is an ambitious project to image the brains of more than 10,000 nine- and ten-year-old children and follow their physical, cognitive and emotional development for ten years through early adulthood.   Brain magnetic resonance imaging [PDF, 3.1MB] (MRI), both structural and functional, will be conducted at baseline and biannually throughout the course of the study.  The study recently completed enrollment and that milestone was celebrated this fall at the study’s third annual meeting in La Jolla, CA. The study is being led by psychologists Sandra Brown and Terry Jernigan from the ABCD Coordinating Center at the University of California San Diego and across 21 additional sites nationwide.  Twenty-seven of the 39 Principal Investigators are psychologists.

The study is designed to answer a range of questions about the developmental trajectory of substance use, normative mental health, and mental illness in children and adolescents. The study represents the most visible product of the functional integration of substance use research at the National Institutes of Health which is organized under the rubric of Collaborative Research on Addictions at NIH (CRAN). The $300 million study which receives the largest share of its funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, followed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Cancer Institute, now includes support from several other federal partners.  It was conceived as a natural follow-on to a smaller longitudinal study of the effects of alcohol on the developing brain (the National Consortium on Alcohol and Neurodevelopment in Adolescence or NCANDA).

Recruitment included over-sampling to ensure adequate representation of ethnic/racial minorities from the general population (n=10,148) and 1727 individuals who were identical twins/triplets for a total of 11,875 participants. While recruitment was the initial challenge, retention of an adolescent population will be daunting. Brown and Jernigan are targeting minimums of 85% retention at each study site and 90% overall (current retention is 99.52%). The study promotes an open science model encouraging widespread use of the archived anonymized data. The first wave of data released in February included basic participant demographics, assessments of physical and mental health, substance use, culture and environment, neurocognition, tabulated structural and functional neuroimaging data, and minimally processed brain images, as well as biological data such as pubertal hormone analyses for the first 4500 participants.

The annual meeting provided an opportunity for the investigators to discuss early findings and design strategies emerging from the first two years of the study including the examination of psychotic-like experiences in young children, development of gender identity, screen media activity effects on physical and mental health, and how socioeconomic status and air pollution may affect cognitive development.

APA and Congressional Support

APA was an early supporter of the study and submitted report language [PDF, 3MB] that was accepted verbatim by the House Appropriations Subcommittee that guided NIH appropriations for Fiscal Year 2016:

“Adolescent Behavioral and Cognitive Development.--The committee applauds the Collaborative Research on Addictions at NIH (CRAN) initiative and the launch of the Adolescent Behavioral and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Unique in its scope and duration, the ABCD will recruit 10,000 youth before they begin using alcohol, marijuana, nicotine and other drugs, and follow them over 10 years into early adulthood to assess how substance use affects the trajectory of the developing brain.  The Committee commends the study design which will use advanced brain imaging as well as psychological and behavioral research tools to evaluate brain structure and function and track substance use, academic achievement, IQ, cognitive skills, and mental health over time.”  

Once underway, APA became one of the early Partner Organizations helping to disseminate information about the study and educate members of Congress about the value of prospective longitudinal research designs.  Such studies are vulnerable to competing funding demands as was the case with the National Children’s Study, terminated by the NIH Director in 2014. The ABCD study is off to a great start but will require vigilance from the advocacy community to ensure it’s allowed to continue to completion. Geoff Mumford of APA’s Science Government Relations Office serves on the ABCD National Liaison Board [PDF, 446K].

Q&A with Elizabeth Albro of the Institute of Education Sciences

A conversation with the new Commissioner of the IES National Center for Education Research. 

As the newly appointed Commissioner of the National Center for Education Research (NCER) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), psychologist Elizabeth Albro is no stranger to education research.   Albro has been at IES, the research arm of the Department of Education, for more than 15 years.  NCER, one of the two research centers at IES, supports rigorous research that addresses the nation's most pressing education needs, from early childhood to adult education.

Albro spoke with Craig Fisher, of the American Psychological Association’s Science Government Relations Office, about her new role, as well as how education research has evolved, the contributions that psychologists have made, and why scientists should consider engaging in public service.

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President signs appropriations bill for Departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Defense

Solid increases enacted for health and defense research

The president has signed into law the nearly $800 billion “minibus” bill that funds the Departments of HHS, Education and Defense, along with the Continuing Resolution which included the seven remaining funding bills the House and Senate had not passed. This was done with two days to spare before Fiscal Year 2019 begins on October 1. You can see colorful details of this spending below courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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More than ever, our government needs scientists in its midst

The potential of the APA Executive Branch Science Fellowship to influence policy in the short- and long-term.

By Amanda M. Dettmer

Dr. Dettmer is an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, CT.

The impact of a child’s early environment on later social, cognitive, and behavioral development is well understood in the context of parenting and caregiving. My own research in this area, relying on nonhuman primate models, has shed light on the influences of parenting interactions and early social environments on subsequent cognition, social rank, and chronic stress

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A psychological scientist joins the chorus voicing support for NIH

Advocates meet with their Members of Congress to urge increased funding for medical research.

By David C. Schwebel

Dr. Schwebel is university professor of psychology and associate dean at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The Rally for Medical Research is an annual event designed to bring together the wide-ranging groups who support National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded medical research. As psychologists know quite well, medical research – including that conducted by psychologists – undeniably saves and improves lives. At the 2018 Rally for Medical Research, I joined patients, physicians, scientists, and members representing dozens of other organizations, traveling from across the United States to meet with their Members of Congress and share their personal stories to help the Senators and Representatives recognize the value of NIH-funded medical research.

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