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HomeScienceWe Need Social Science, Not Just Medical Science, to Beat the Pandemic

We Need Social Science, Not Just Medical Science, to Beat the Pandemic

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Human behavior and social inequity are huge confounding factors

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held up a mirror to our society, reflecting … the inequality we’ve allowed to calcify.” She also noted that “science is a social phenomenon.” This implies not just that science requires real insight into the society with which it interacts, but also that it is forged in relationship to social forces and meanings. Social science can assist us in understanding social reactions to scientific knowledge, as well as in ensuring that science becomes aware of its own social biases and interests.

Science gains its authority through constant testing and perpetual revision. To the outside world, science often appears to be confused, subject to doubt, arbitrarily adjusting its findings and its recommendations. Early in the pandemic we were told to scrub all surfaces rather than wear masks; now we know that aerosol droplets in the air are by far the most significant vector of viral transmission. Scientists need to do a better job of managing how they communicate what they know, and how they come to know it.

Human behavior evolves as our knowledge increases, but we are all subject to our own ways of construing this knowledge. Because of the pervasive influence of social media, new knowledge is often overwhelmed by misinformation that further confuses us and provides easy access to conspiracy theories and alternative facts. In order to ensure that scientific advances work not just to create new medicines but to help lead to a healthier and more just world, we need to ensure that science and social science work hand in hand as well.


Nicholas Dirks

    Nicholas Dirks is the president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences.

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