Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Why We Do What We Do

• January 09, 2013 • 10:27 AM

A letter from Sara Miller McCune, founder of the Miller-McCune Center and Pacific Standard.

miller-mccuneFOR MORE YEARS than I care to count, I have been reading and publishing academic articles about the latest research in political science, education, sociology, and psychology. Together with economics, these areas of study—the social sciences—make up the empirical backbone of American public life. From James S. Coleman’s research proving that “separate but equal” schools were anything but equal, to James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s “broken windows” theory of policing, to Robert D. Putnam’s bracing look at the decline of civic engagement and social connections in his 2000 book, Bowling Alone, the research and the findings of social and behavioral scientists have repeatedly risen to the forefront of the national debate, and set the course of policy.

Just as often, however, valuable and potentially transformative insights from the social sciences have been overlooked, misunderstood, or passed over. Today, whole edifices of policy and public opinion rest on outdated models of human behavior and expedient nostrums about how markets, cultures, and institutions work. Where this is the case, the best research cries out to be heard.

We live in exciting times when it comes to our understanding of the mind, human behavior, and society. Advances in psychology and brain science have begun remaking entire fields of knowledge, including economics, law, and education. The notion that we humans are rational actors seeking always to maximize our self-interest—a concept that has been the basis of much modern economic policy and thought—is losing ground to explanations that chart the ways in which we are, to borrow a term from the behavioral economist Dan Ariely, predictably irrational.

These ideas have already begun to reshape the world of policy. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron has created a Behavioural Insights Team within his Cabinet Office. Here in the United States, the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was deeply informed by behavioral economic principles from its founding—which means that these theories now stand to transform the market for mortgages, credit cards, and numerous other products that define the financial lives of Americans. Not long ago, the National Academy of Sciences sponsored an open meeting, in which we participated, to discuss the contributions of the social and behavioral sciences to national security, medicine, and engineering. The discussion covered the prevention of medical errors, the importance of human factors on the battlefield, and the ways in which an understanding of national and global human behavior can be harnessed to complete complex engineering projects in developing countries.

The world is facing so many overwhelming problems. How do we build an economy that is both fair and vibrant? How can we deliver basic, affordable health care for all? How can we educate our children so that more are trained for lives of success? How can we develop an environmentally sustainable society? How can we create a more just and democratic world in the face of rising inequality? These questions beg for answers, facts, and serious inquiry. Yet all too often the media pose merely rhetorical questions, leaving the loudest mouths on the far edges of the political spectrum to answer them, while neglecting the job of getting to the empirical truth of the matter.

Over the years, as one trailblazing article or book after another came across my desk at SAGE Publications, I would worry about how to get these important ideas to a wider audience. I founded the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy to do just that by pairing experienced journalists with the researchers and experts who scientifically scrutinize the nation’s biggest issues relating to education, justice, the environment, and the economy.

Today, early in our sixth year of publishing this magazine—formerly under the name Miller-McCune, and now as Pacific Standard—we look around and see an unharnessed wealth of research that can address many of today’s problems and actually advance our most intractable debates. Two of the organizations I am involved with—the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University—are working to expand the public’s recognition of research that should be central to our national conversation.

Pacific Standard’s goal is to be the publication that explains the deeply researched work that is, and that should be, changing policy. We endeavor to give our readers the tools—in the form of lively reportage and robust research findings—to answer the most vexing problems facing the world today.

Sara Miller McCune
Sara Miller McCune is the founder and executive chair of SAGE Publications, as well as the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, which published Pacific Standard. She also serves as president of the McCune Foundation, and is a member of the board of directors of both the American Academy of Political and Social Science (which was founded in 1889) and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

More From Sara Miller McCune

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.