The Importance of the Social Sciences

In recent years STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) sciences have received the majority of investment and support from government, universities, etc., while these subjects are no doubt important, the importance of social sciences should not be ignored. In fact, in areas such as social and primary care, the justice system, and business, to name just a few, social science is extremely important, and necessary. It is therefore very important that this educational imbalance be addressed and more support provided to the social sciences.

While for many people the words “social sciences” may conjure up images of social workers or teachers, this is a gross misunderstanding of the range of roles available within this discipline, as well as the impact that it has on the wider world. In general, social sciences focus on the study of society and the relationship among individuals within society. Social science covers a wide spectrum of subjects, including economics, political science, sociology, history, archaeology, anthropology, and law. In comparison to STEM sciences, social science is able to provide insight into how science and innovation work – in effect it is the science of science. In particular, social scientists are equipped with the analytical and communication skills that are important throughout many industries and organizations.

What do social scientists do?

Social scientists are involved with solving many of the world’s biggest issues, such as violent crime, alternative energy, and cyber security. They have had profound effects on every part of society.

Among the important roles that social science can play is in fighting the spread of infectious diseases. A perfect example is the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa. While part of solving this problem naturally rested on developing a clearer understanding of the pathogens involved and increasing investment in drugs, there were a number of social science needs as well. In particular, it was necessary to understand the people who were suffering from the disease as well as the wider society in which they were living. For example, doctors needed to understand how people’s attitudes were shaped towards such things as hand washing and other sanitary behaviours. It was also necessary to inquire into larger societal questions such as why do states fail, and how can they be rebuilt and strengthened. Additionally, the fight against Ebola needed specialists in administration, markets, drug pricing, human resources, fund raising, and leadership.

In other fields of medicine, social scientists again have much to offer and are working with a variety of organizations in the UK. For example, researchers are currently studying how cancer patients and their carers understand the recent, and on-going, changes in cancer science. Social scientists are also working with the National Institute of Health to provide a clearer picture of patients’ experience with community hospitals.  Sociologists are working with the Medical Research Council on the possible causes of poor sleep patterns.

Other examples of the uses of social science abound. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence uses social scientists at thinktanks and universities in order to better understand the world and be better able to handle the defence and security challenges it faces every day. In another interesting example, the UK’s Home Office has brought together engineers, criminologists, and auto manufacturers in order to figure out how to build cars that are more difficult to steal. The insight that criminologists can provide into the reasons why people steal, as well as their methods, is of particular importance to this project.

Social scientists are also in great demand in the business world. For example, easyJet sponsors the Consumer Data Research Centre, which uses geo-demographic mapping to provide information to the airline about its customers’ use of services, travel patterns, access to airports, and much more. Companies around the world are often desperate to gain the type of deeper understanding of their customers that social scientists are able to provide. Social scientists have the skills to see the world as others do, as well as find data that others may have missed.

Strengthening social sciences for the future

It is clear that social science is of immense importance to societies around the world, however their still is much work to be done to increase the level of support that they receive. One of the key programs that have emerged to champion the social sciences has been the Campaign for Social Science. The Campaign attempts to inform public policy, build coalitions, and engage in measured advocacy for support of the social sciences.

Another important program that has helped raise the profile of the social sciences is The Future of the UK and Scotland, which, according to its website,  “works to illustrate not just the value but the diversity of the social sciences – including resources on immigration policy, higher education, welfare, defence and security, business, currency and the constitution”. Successful programs like the ones listed above have done much to increase general knowledge of, and to secure increased funding for, the social sciences.

The choice between STEM and the social sciences is really a false one; society needs people trained in both. In order to formulate effective solutions for society and to understand the implications of those solutions, a mix of both STEM and social sciences will be required. Social science is already increasingly engaged in collaborative cross-disciplinary work in diverse fields such as engineering, medicine, computing, biology, and mathematics. It is clear that no subject area can stand alone, walled off from the outside, and that social science can play an important role in all fields.

Read on for more information about some of the leading institutions offering first-class social science programmes:

The University of Ottawa (uOttawa) is ranked among the top 2% universities worldwide, and among the top 10 most research-intensive universities in Canada. uOttawa is home to 10 faculties that offer more than 450 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs to over 43,000 students from across Canada and 150 countries. The Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) offers a range of high quality undergraduate, masters and doctoral programs. Given that the Faculty is situated just blocks from Parliament, embassies and the central offices of public and not-for-profit organizations, interacting with politicians, policy makers and society’s key influencers is commonplace. Read the full profile…

The University of Warwick is a globally connected and entrepreneurial institution designed to promote success through innovative teaching and exciting research opportunities. In less than fifty years Warwick has become one of the UK’s top universities, consistently ranked highly in all national league tables. Close links with business and industry ensure that students develop skills and knowledge relevant to the modern workplace, which in turn means that Warwick graduates are in high demand among the UK’s top graduate employers.

An institution which prides itself on recognising students not as numbers or statistics but as individuals, Mount Royal University encourages all those enrolled to be themselves. With a thriving community of 12,000  undergraduate students studying across a broad spectrum of bachelor’s programmes, diplomas and certificates, the institution has a history of success in preparing young people for life after graduation. While Mount Royal’s courses have changed over time, the University’s dedication to providing high-quality teaching and small class sizes has remained the same.

One of the most progressive research-led institutions in New Zealand, the University of Waikato is dedicated to providing a rich learning environment in which tomorrow’s leaders are encouraged to excel. The University is ideally situated in the vibrant, densely populated city of Hamilton and offers its students a dynamic synthesis of academic excellence and personal development. The University of Waikato’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) graduates can now be found working for institutions such as the Ministry of Defence and successful web design company Rocketspark, urges its students to understand the value of their chosen subjects not simply within the academic community but also in the context of today’s global society.

A world-class institution dedicated to providing students with the key skills and confidence they need to excel in their chosen disciplines, the University of Western Sydney (UWS) in Australia has been named one of the world’s top 400 universities in the prestigious Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The School of Social Sciences and Psychology offers a range of disciplines and areas of study that are amongst the most exciting and important in the contemporary university. Many of the programs that are managed by the School lead to professional recognition in areas such as Clinical Psychology, Social Work, Counselling, Urban Planning and Policing, whilst others have been developed in consultation of the relevant industry and public sectors.