BOX 5-1Influence Diagrams of the Impacts of Scientific Research

Fischhoff (2000) suggests that the process of developing influence diagrams of the pathways from research to its scientific results and societal benefits can clarify the place of various research activities in the larger enterprise and promote more focused discussion of priorities, even if credible numbers cannot be calculated to estimate the strengths of the relationships that the arrows represent. Such discussion could systematically address such questions as whether anyone in the scientific community is receiving research support to understand each element in the influence diagram and “whether the research investments are commensurate with the opportunities” (Fischhoff, 2000:82).

As an example, Fischhoff presents an influence diagram in which the variable of central interest is the public health risks of Cryptosporidium. The diagram shows the roles of events in the biophysical environment (e.g., contamination of drinking water resulting from a flood), responses of individuals and organizations to the events, engineering practices (e.g., routine testing of the water), mass media coverage, and other factors. In such a diagram, various kinds of scientists can locate the points at which their research is relevant to reducing the risks.

This diagram emphasizes a practical, health-related outcome that research might help improve. Similar conceptual models might be developed for NIA’s practical goals for research, such as to “improve health and quality of life of older people” and to “reduce health disparities among older persons and populations” (National Institute on Aging, 2001); for considering other important NIA goals for research, such as to “understand healthy aging processes”; or for comparing research programs that contribute differentially to different research goals.

From: 5, Methods of Assessing Science

Cover of A Strategy for Assessing Science
A Strategy for Assessing Science: Behavioral and Social Research on Aging.
National Research Council (US) Committee on Assessing Behavioral and Social Science Research on Aging; Feller I, Stern PC, editors.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007.
Copyright © 2007, National Academy of Sciences.

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