Social Science in Government

The Role of Policy Researchers

By Richard P. Nathan

Subjects: American Government
Imprint: Distribution Partners
Paperback : 9780914341666, 213 pages, July 2000
Hardcover : 9780914341659, 213 pages, July 2000

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Michael J. Malbin

Preface to the New Edition


Chapter 1 – Applying Social Science to Government

The Point of View of This Book
The Role of Applied Social Science

Chapter 2 – Optimism and Disillusionment

Applying Macroeconomics
The Planning-Programming Budgeting System
Demonstration and Evaluation Research
Doubts Arise
Other Views
Demise of the PPB System
Assessing Demonstration and Evaluation Research


Chapter 3 – The Nature of Demonstration Research

The Vocabulary of Demonstration Research
The Negative Income Tax Demonstrations
Other Income Maintenance Demonstrations
Demonstrations of Service-Type Programs

Chapter 4 – Hurdles of Demonstration Research

Selection Bias
The Null Hypothesis
Relations with Program Operators
Quality and Consistency Treatment
Cost and Quality of Data
Treatment of Human Subjects
The Uncertainty of Cost-Benefit Analysis

Chapter 5 – Welfare Demonstration Studies

Supported Work
Results Focus on Welfare
Implications for Welfare Reform
MDRC's Work/Welfare Demonstrations


Chapter 6 – The Nature of Evaluation Research

The Federalism Barrier Reef
Scientific Implications

Chapter 7 – Evaluating the California GAIN Program

The GAIN Process
The MDRC Evaluation
The Research Challenge
Discoveries in the Implementation Process

Chapter 8 – The 1999 and 1996 National Welfare

Reform Laws
The Family Support Act of 1988
The Personal Responsibility Act of 1996

Chapter 9 – Evaluating the Family Support Act of 1998
with Irene Lurie

Three Strategies
Little Fanfare or Rhetoric

Chapter 10 – Evaluating the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996
with Thomas L. Gais

Changes Signals
New Partners
Political “Detoxification”
Second Order Devolution
Adaptability of the Research Process

Chapter 11 – Lessons from Evaluations of Employment and Training Programs

The CETA Public Service Employment Program
The “Complementarity” Approach
Studies of Individual Impacts under CETA

Chapter 12 – The Beginning of the Field Network Evaluation Methodology

The Research Approach


Chapter 13 – Public Policy and Policy Research: Limits and Possibilities

Evaluation Research – The Frontier of Applied
Social Science
The Demand for Policy Research
Concluding Comments


A new, substantially updated, and expanded version of a classic work on how to evaluate public policy published over a decade ago.


This book presents a lively retrospective account of a career as an inner and outer in American government and academe by a social scientist who has spent many years conducting evaluation studies of what works—and what doesn't work—in domestic public affairs. It uses rich histories of prominent policy issues and descriptions of major studies of welfare and job programs to bring to life crucial questions about how social science can best serve social policy. This is a new, substantially updated, and expanded version of a book published by Basic Books over a decade ago.

Richard P. Nathan writes about the real politics of social science research in a style for both practitioners and students of American government. Reviewing the earlier version of this book, James Q. Wilson said Nathan "summarizes in plain English what he has learned about how to evaluate public policy. It is an important book for a political system that may have wearied of adopting programs simply because they make us feel good or serve ideological ends. " Robert Reischauer, President of The Urban Institute, commented, "Nathan's book is essential reading for policymakers who must look for ways to identify efficient government programs. "

Richard P. Nathan is Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.