Because Social Science Is Necessary to Achieve Health Equity

Living in an America in which all populations have an equal opportunity to live long, healthy, and productive lives is the vision of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. As we bring National Minority Health Month to a close, it is important to remember that not all groups have obtained health equity. Racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents, people with disadvantaged socioeconomic resources and sexual and gender minorities carry a disproportionate burden of illness and disease. The search to determine the best way to reduce health disparities and to achieve health equity remains challenging for all of us.

The potential to live longer and healthier lives is greater than ever before with the emergence of medical and technical advances in healthcare and the adoption of healthier lifestyles. Despite these advances, health disparities continue to persist. A health disparity, defined as a health difference that adversely affects disadvantaged populations, based on one or more health outcomes, results from a series of complex and interrelated factors. To truly reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities a framework must be applied that can address the multifaceted underlying causes of the disparity.

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Because All Fields of Science Are Drivers of Freedom and Prosperity

Why Social Science Is Marching for Science

Why Social Science? is a space to talk about the unique contributions the social and behavioral sciences have made to making our society better and improving the lives of people around the world. However, this week, we’re broadening our core question as the upcoming March for Science brings the opportunity for us to join with fellow scientists, researchers, and supporters from across fields, disciplines, professions, and industries to focus on Why Science—all science—is such a fundamental driver of human progress around the world.

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Because It Is in the National Interest, Both in Interdisciplinary Work and on Its Own

As a scientist, it is easy to become absorbed in the field or even subfield you are studying and simply focus on the value of your own research within that area of study. Looking back at my time as a political scientist, I understand how easy it is to have that narrow focus and not look at the broader impacts. But today, as the value of federal funding for scientific research is being challenged in Congress, scientists can no longer afford to do this. This is especially true for social scientists.

I serve on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and for more than eight years I have been Chairman or Ranking Member of the Research and Technology Subcommittee which has oversight over the National Science Foundation (NSF). I authored the last long-term reauthorization of the NSF and continually fight for increased funding for this top-notch agency, which is emulated around the globe and has helped the U.S. lead the world in scientific research. While NSF funding for all sciences has slowed greatly since 2011, social science research has been specifically targeted for cuts. In the House, we have seen attempts to defund social sciences by eliminating funding for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate at the NSF. All of my colleagues on the Science Committee can attest to the fact that I have consistently and passionately made the case for the value of social science research by laying out numerous examples of how it has benefitted our nation.

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Because We Need to Understand What Will Motivate People to Take Action

I am not a social scientist, and must confess to having little formal classroom training in the disciplines. However, over the course of my career as a geoscientist, I have acquired a profound respect for the value of the social sciences to the Earth sciences. Social science research helps answer questions such as why are some people open to considering scientific evidence that challenges their own deeply-held biases (e.g., about climate change) while others have closed minds. Is it a function of the message? The messenger? Or the recipient? While all of these factors can be important, new social science research has revealed that having a curious and inquiring nature can promote accepting scientific evidence that is at odds with an individual’s opinions—a characteristic that can open a person’s mind to considering new ideas and viewpoints. This research finding along with the scholarship in science communication synthesized in a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provides us with the knowledge necessary to dramatically improve how we communicate and offers a roadmap for the kinds of future research we need as online information environments and new fields of science with regulatory, moral, or political implications continue to emerge.

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Because Small Tweaks to Behavior Can Be the Difference Between Life and Death

As a psychologist specializing in habits, decision-making, and behavior change and advisor to numerous health organizations and private companies, David Neal, Founder and Managing Partner of Catalyst Behavioral Sciences, LLC and Executive-in-Residence at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, uses behavioral science to help people improve their lives by changing their actions. Neal defines his field as “the science of understanding nonobvious pathways to help people achieve greater health and well-being then help them to stick with those healthier, happier choices and behaviors over time.”

While his expertise runs the gamut from consumer decision-making to trademark litigation, Neal’s most recent project delves into a particularly timely issue of global importance: the Zika virus.

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Because It Makes the World Safe for Cultural Differences

They are cracking the culture codes of consumers and corporations (Intel, Pepsico, Target, Hormel), studying human-machine interactions (driverless cars anyone?), and unlocking the mysteries behind “superspreaders” – the people responsible for accelerating infectious disease epidemics. This week’s Anthropology Day celebration (Thursday, February 16th) provides persuasive answers to the question “why anthropology?”

Anthropology is a social science discipline that makes the world safe for cultural differences and is arguably more essential now than ever as it produces insight into the human component of many of this century’s most pressing problems.

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Because the Social and Behavioral Sciences Contribute to Improving the Health of the Population

While waiting in line for a Broadway play, the couple behind us asked why we were in New York, and I told them that I was at a meeting on medication adherence. “Oh, you’re a doctor?” they asked. “Technically, yes, but I’m a psychologist” I said. They responded, “What does psychology have to do with medication adherence?” It struck me at that moment that most people do not understand that social and behavioral factors are the primary contributors to health and illness, and that when ill, these factors also play a significant role in disease management and healthcare delivery, including the relatively simple behavior of taking a pill.

It is understandable why so many people underestimate the importance of social and behavioral determinants of health.  The airwaves are saturated with commercials touting various medications, devices, and healthcare facilities, as well as for legal assistance should you have been injured by any of these products and services. In contrast, social and behavioral contributions to health and disease management are not so well advertised and often blend into the background of daily life. 

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Why Social Science?

We are excited to launch a new blog series we are calling Why Social Science? Through it, we will tell stories showcasing the impact the social sciences have on our lives. We will feature diverse voices, all with important perspectives on why social science is important. You will hear from researchers, government officials, industry, and a variety of stakeholders who depend on reliable social science research findings. Check out our first issue.

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COSSA Releases State Funding Fact Sheets for 2017

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) has released the 2017 edition of its state funding fact sheets with a new look. These one-pagers showcase the amount of federal social science research funding that goes to each state, and includes information on the leading recipient institutions and sources of funding. The fact sheets are helpful for articulating to policy makers the local economic impact of social science research funding. The fact sheets are available on the COSSA website at

This article was originally published in the January 10, 2017 issue of the COSSA Washington Update. Click here to subscribe and receive this newsletter every two weeks.

Social and Behavioral Scientists Among New National Academy of Medicine Inductees

The National Academy of Medicine announced the election of 79 new members, including 70 regular members and nine international members. The newly elected cohort includes several members who work in the social and behavioral sciences. They include Anita Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania; Cheryl Ann Marie Anderson, Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health, at the University of California, San Diego; Peter Brian Bach, Director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Laura L. Carstensen, Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr. Professor in Public Policy, Professor of Psychology, and Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity at Stanford University; Martin Gaynor, E.J. Barone Professor of Economics and Health Policy at Carnegie Mellon University; Maureen Lichtveld, Professor and Chair of the Department of Global Environmental Health Sciences at Tulane University; Bernice A. Pescosolido, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington; and Prabhat Jha, Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

COSSA congratulates all of the newly elected members of the Academy.

This article was originally published in the November 1, 2016 issue of the COSSA Washington Update. Click here to subscribe and receive this newsletter every two weeks.