When you think about curing diseases, you might think of scientists in labs using test tubes and high-tech equipment to develop vaccines. In reality, the world looks to both laboratories and libraries when it comes to finding these solutions—drawing on the well-read wisdom of today’s top social scientists.
If you’re an analytical, big-picture thinker, you might make a great social scientist. Social sciences are subjects that study the relationship between science, human behavior and society.
Knowledge in these areas is indispensable when it comes to managing outbreaks. While administering and developing a vaccine falls to doctors, chemists and biologists, understanding how a disease spreads, how a population’s behavior affects its susceptibility and the best way to keep epidemics under control are all the purview of social scientists.
Read on to learn more about how you can help stop epidemics with a social sciences degree.
Social Science Studies Can Map How a Disease Spreads
Epidemiology, defined as “the study and analysis of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions,” is central to dealing with crises like the recent Ebola outbreak. One of the main responsibilities of an epidemiologist when disease starts to spread is to predict where it might go, by analyzing global and social interaction patterns.
For example, there are multiple organizations devoted to studying the spread of infectious diseases via social science studies, most prominent being Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC). Throughout the Ebola crisis, R2H2 funded research of the 'social routes’ of the virus. It cited burial practices as common points of Ebola transmission, which helped humanitarians in the field to better manage these practices and make citizens aware of the dangers they posed.
Social scientists analyze and improve relief efforts, helping to control outbreaks worldwide
Social Science Studies Bring Cultural Awareness to Relief Efforts
One crucial responsibility, which falls to social scientists when dealing with disease outbreaks, is understanding how different populations will respond to efforts to control the spread.
Unfortunately, resistance to so-called ‘control strategies’ for diseases like malaria and Ebola is very common. This is usually due to mistrust of the motives of aid workers and government officials, or because these strategies interrupt cultural practices that people see as central to their lives.
Cultural anthropologists who take liberal arts college courses in the social sciences are able to formulate the most effective strategies. They’re equipped to handle disease control on a culture-to-culture basis. For example, amongst people that have a history of exploitation and suppression, the arrival of officials with strict rules and orders can often feel threatening. Knowing how these cultural characteristics will impact relief efforts is vital to ensuring that affected communities are both protected and respected.
In the Aftermath, Social Science Studies Help Communities Move Forward
Once preventative practices have been instituted, social scientists have further responsibilities in the management of disease control and policy development.
Political scientists gauge the public perception of response to the crisis, and advise governments and aid organizations of positive steps they could take in future situations. Communication experts communicate effective practices for future disease prevention. Medical anthropologists help design clinical trials for different populations and offer guidance to medical professionals.
Many graduates of social science courses dedicate their lives to helping communities overcome the life and death issues of an epidemic. When you graduate from a liberal arts college, you may choose to join global organizations like the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies or the Emergency Response Anthropology Platform.
With the right training, you could become part of a life-saving research and response team
Are you interested in pursuing social science courses?
Visit Shimer for information about starting your own studies in this fast-paced field.