Science Does Not Speak for Itself: Translating Child Development Research for the Public and Its Policymakers


  • This collaborative work has been supported by the Birth to Five Policy Alliance, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the McCormick Tribune Foundation, the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, and an anonymous donor. In addition, FrameWorks’ communications research on early child development has been supported by the A. L. Mailman Foundation, which also supported partial development of this article, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

  • The authors wish to acknowledge the enormous contributions of past and present members of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, including W. Thomas Boyce, Judy Cameron, Greg Duncan, Nathan Fox, William Greenough, Megan Gunnar, Eric Knudsen, Pat Levitt, Betsy Lozoff, Bruce McEwen, Charles Nelson, Deborah Phillips, and Ross Thompson; members of the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs (formerly known as the National Forum on Early Childhood Program Evaluation), including Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Greg Duncan, Bernard Guyer, Katherine Magnuson, Deborah Phillips, Helen Raikes, and Hirokazu Yoshikawa; senior research associates of the FrameWorks Institute, including Franklin Gilliam, Lynn Davey, Tiffany Manuel, Nat Kendall-Taylor, and Moira O’Neil, as well as Graduate Fellow Anna Mikulak and Board Chairman Emeritus Robert L. Munroe; and senior staff of the Center on the Developing Child, including Gillian Najarian and Al Race.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jack P. Shonkoff, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, 50 Church St., Cambridge, MA 02138. Electronic mail may be sent to


Science has an important role to play in advising policymakers on crafting effective responses to social problems that affect the development of children. This article describes lessons learned from a multiyear, working collaboration among neuroscientists, developmental psychologists, pediatricians, economists, and communications researchers who are engaged in the iterative construction of a core story of development, using simplifying models (i.e., metaphors) such as “brain architecture,”“toxic stress,” and “serve and return” to explain complex scientific concepts to nonscientists. The aim of this article is to stimulate more systematic, empirical approaches to the task of knowledge transfer and to underscore the need to view the translation of science into policy and practice as an important academic endeavor in its own right.