Global problems need social science







Without human insights, data and the hard sciences will not meet the challenges of the next decade, says Hetan Shah, the incoming chief executive of the British Academy in London.



For example, we cannot improve global health if we take only a narrow medical view. Epidemics are social as well as biological phenomena. Anthropologists such as Melissa Leach at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, played an important part in curbing the West African Ebola epidemic with proposals to substitute risky burial rituals with safer ones, rather than trying to eliminate such rituals altogether.



In diverse cases, social factors — cultural norms, educational understanding, kin and social networks, power dynamics, or simply the layout of a building — must be accounted for before policy can succeed.



Without the humanities and social sciences, hard science and technology can do little to resolve complex societal challenges.



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