Embracing the Social in Social Science

Article by Jay Lloyd: “In a world where science is inextricably intermixed with society, the social sciences are essential to building trust in the scientific enterprise.

To begin thinking about why all the sciences should embrace the social in social science, I would like to start with cupcakes.

In my research, context is a recurring theme, so let me give you some context for cupcakes as metaphor. A few months ago, when I was asked to respond to an article in this magazine, I wrote: “In the production of science, social scientists can often feel like sprinkles on a cupcake: not essential. Social science is not the egg, the flour, or the sugar. Sprinkles are neither in the batter, nor do they see the oven. Sprinkles are a late addition. No matter the stylistic or aesthetic impact, they never alter the substance of the ‘cake’ in the cupcake.”

In writing these sentences, I was, and still am, hopeful that all kinds of future scientific research will make social science a key component of the scientific “batter” and bake social scientific knowledge, skill, and expertise into twenty-first-century scientific “cupcakes.”

But there are tensions and power differentials in the ways interdisciplinary science can be done. Most importantly, the formation of questions itself is a site of power. The questions we as a society ask science to address both reflect and create the values and power dynamics of social systems, whether the scientific disciplines recognize this influence or not. And some of those knowledge systems do not embrace the importance of insights from the social sciences because many institutions of science work hard to insulate the practice of science from the contingencies of society.

Moving forward, how do we, as researchers, develop questions that not only welcome intellectual variety within the sciences but also embrace the diversity represented in societies? As science continues to more powerfully blend, overlap, and intermix with society, embracing what social science can bring to the entire scientific enterprise is necessary. In order to accomplish these important goals, social concerns must be a key ingredient of the whole cupcake—not an afterthought, or decoration, but among the first thoughts…(More)”