In this commentary on recent planning for multidisciplinary research on ageing in the United States, we argue that Sir Douglas Black's pessimistic conclusion about the irrelevance of such planning is off the mark. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1975, the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) was a novelty in the National Institutes of Health. NIA was mandated to have a broadly multidisciplinary research agenda that included behavioural and social sciences and to produce periodic reports to the Congress on a consensual agenda for future research. Two previous research agendas were developed internally by NIA. The recently released third agenda, which is of interest here, was organized externally by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Academy of Sciences. While the subagendas in ageing research for basic biology, clinical medicine, and health services research will be of interest to some, the focus here is specifically on the behavioural and social scientific agenda. High priority substantive issues were identified. Beyond the building of a consensus concerning research priorities, other functions of national research planning are identified in the field of ageing.