September 25, 2007

The Contribution of the Social Sciences to the Energy Challenge

  • Jerry Ellig

    Research Professor, George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center
Key materials
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Our Findings

  • Since the social sciences study how people interact, the social sciences are necessary if we want to understand the effects of energy policy on people.
  • Different social sciences are complementary sets of tools for understanding reality, rather than different ways of understanding that are in opposition to each other. New research on human behavior does not give us a blank check to discard what we know from economic analysis. The real contribution of this research is that it helps us understand behavior in situations where people's motivations, perceptions, and limitations were previously not very well understood.

Recommendations

  • Lawmakers could increase the impact of social science research on policy by signaling that they will actually use information about prospective and actual policy outcomes when making decisions about authorizations and appropriations for programs and policies.
  • The social sciences employ a variety of research methods, including statistical techniques, surveys, field interviews, randomized field trials, laboratory experiments, and archival history. Social science funding should avoid promoting the "tunnel vision" that prompts some researchers to claim that only one research method qualifies as "scientific."