Yale appoints director of new Data-Intensive Social Science Center
Ron Borzekowski, who spent several years leading the Office of Research at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), has been named the inaugural executive director of Yale’s Data-Intensive Social Science Center (DISSC), a planned campus hub for social science research that uses advanced computing to analyze large and complex datasets.
Once it is operational, the DISSC will provide Yale’s social scientists a range of services, including event programming, such as cross-disciplinary workshops and seminars for faculty and other researchers to share the latest techniques and technology in managing and analyzing large datasets; research support, such as assistance with negotiating data-use agreements; and help in establishing secure computing environments for working with sensitive data.
“I’m excited to work with the scholars across campus who are doing advanced data-intensive social science research,” said Borzekowski. “I especially look forward to helping facilitate research that has the potential to inform and influence public policy addressing the most pressing issues facing the country and the world. There is a lot of existing capability in this area on campus, and my job will be to build on and advance those efforts.”
Borzekowski, who started July 1, has been meeting with campus groups that already conduct and support data-intensive social science research. His immediate task is to figure out how to coordinate those existing services and determine what sort of structures are needed to continue moving Yale to the forefront of research that merges data science and social science.
He plans to have the DISSC open for business in early 2023.
“Many of the next generation of scientific discoveries in social science will be based on new types of data and advances in computation. The DISSC will make sure that Yale’s infrastructure to support this research is unsurpassed,” said Alan Gerber, Sterling Professor of Political Science and director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies. “Ron is an outstanding addition to our community and exceptionally well qualified to help lead this effort.”
President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel have made building capacity and support for data-intensive social science research one of the university’s academic priorities, emphasizing the use of data to study public policy issues and matters of social concern.
Data-intensive social science research spans the campus. It occurs in the departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences specifically dedicated to fields within the discipline — including political science, psychology, economics, and sociology — and at Yale’s graduate and professional schools. Additionally, it is supported and funded by various campus research institutes, including the Economic Growth Center, the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and the Tobin Center for Economic Policy. Faculty are working with public and private datasets that concern the health care industry, taxation, and air and water pollution, among many other policy-relevant topics.
In 2020, a university-wide committee charged with proposing ways to support data-intensive social science research issued a report that, among other recommendations, called for creating a campus center dedicated to providing the infrastructure needed to support the acquisition, security, and use of the massive datasets that are transforming the discipline. A task force subsequently convened by Strobel, the university provost, laid out a plan for establishing the DISSC, which included hiring an executive director to oversee the center’s daily operations.
“Researchers in Yale’s social sciences are very lucky to attract Ron to this position. He has an ideal combination of experience and understands the academic research process from the inside,” said Steven Berry, the David Swensen Professor of Economics and Jeffrey Talpins Faculty Director of the Tobin Center for Economic Policy. “In government service and in private sector leadership, Ron has a proven track record of successfully creating and securing large combinations of complex, often highly confidential, research datasets. I am confident that he will create a world-leading research-support organization at Yale.”
Borzekowski, who earned Ph.D. in economics from Stanford, comes to Yale from Amazon Web Services, where he was director of economics, managing a team of economists that conducted data-intensive research on forecasting, pricing, demand, and other topics. Previously, he served eight years at the CFPB, a federal agency focused on consumer protection in the financial industry, where he led a program that produced economic research about consumers, households, and financial markets. He also has served as deputy research director at the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and as an economist for the Federal Reserve Board’s Division of Research and Statistics.
“Our aim is to build a community of researchers with expertise and interests in different methods and applications for data-driven social science,” Borzekowski said. “Many of the pieces are already in place. It’s just a matter of uniting them into a cohesive whole.”