As people around the world adjust to life’s “new normal” brought on by the coronavirus, social scientists are contributing their expertise and helping the general public to understand the pandemic’s immediate impact on their everyday lives as well as the long-term consequences for society.

The Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE), Virginia Tech’s investment institute focused broadly on the social sciences, has been highlighting this expertise through its COVID-19 publication repository, which it established this spring.

“Our goal for the repository is to document how important social science research and expertise are to successfully responding to COVID-19 as well as understanding its influence on how we live, work and relate to others,” said Karen Roberto, executive director of the institute and University Distinguished Professor of human development and family science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

“Social science research is not only important in its own right, but also complements and strengthens the medical and other breakthroughs needed to successfully address the pandemic,” Roberto explained.

Charlotte Baker, assistant professor of population health sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, is a social scientist who has been tapped by the media on numerous occasions during the pandemic to provide her expertise on a broad range of topics including the importance of handwashing and wearing masks, precautions for flying, racial and ethnic disparities related to COVID-19 incidence and the return to playing sports including football and the NBA “bubble.” Many of the news articles where Baker is featured have been posted in the ISCE COVID-19 repository. 

“Social scientists have provided a great understanding of the pandemic from a molecular level to the human population level. We have tested and shown methods that help reduce spread and, despite the difficulty, have made tremendous improvements in a short time for our overall understanding of this condition, how to treat it, and where we need to bolster the social fabric of our global communities to reduce the effect on our most vulnerable citizens,” said Baker. 

In addition to being interviewed to provide expertise, Virginia Tech scholars have also authored articles and editorials for a variety of online outlets, ranging from local to national newspapers to such academic online platforms as the Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Conversation, and the Social Science Research Council’s digital forum, Items: Insights from the Social Sciences. 

Tom Ewing, associate dean for research for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and professor of history, who has also been featured in the ISCE COVID-19 repository, has been interviewed more than 15 times about his work related to pandemics and has published 10 articles directly related to COVID-19, including two for The Washington Post.

“Social scientists can contribute understanding of this epidemic as it happens, thus shaping public attitudes and health policies, while also acquiring knowledge that could provide guidance in dealing with the next pandemic,” said Ewing. 

The institute began collecting COVID-19 related publications in April 2020 and created the repository as an online resource on its website. It organizes publications into five categories: Scholarly Research Articles, Research/Policy Briefs, Editorials/Blog Posts, What Virginia Tech Social Scientists Are Saying About COVID-19, and Ut Prosim

While the first three categories are self-explanatory, the What Virginia Tech Social Scientists Are Saying about COVID-19 section includes popular press articles that feature Virginia Tech researchers. The Ut Prosim category highlights specific activities or research on campus that have a social impact on the university or local community. 

In addition to the many popular press articles and editorials or blogs featured, the repository includes journal articles and research and policy briefs. While there are fewer of these entries to date, Roberto expects them to grow as researchers continue to collect data on issues associated with COVID-19 and disseminate their results through academic publications. 

Ewing’s scholarship, for example, has been posted not only in local and national news media, but also on national history websites, such as Nursing Clio, an open access, peer-reviewed collaborative blog project that links history and medicine. 

“We wanted a place to collect both the scholarly works that Virginia Tech social science faculty are producing along with the many articles where our social scientists have helped people better understand and respond to these unprecedented times we are all experiencing,” said Roberto. 

Baker agrees that archiving these publications is valuable. “Archiving the history of this moment is so important. How do we think, how do we respond, how do we grow? Not only is this important for seeing the individual stories but it is like a quilt of who we are. It tells us the hardships and well fought battles to overcome this moment in time. Without it, we might be digging in a huge mound of information to see what and who we are,” said Baker. 

To submit COVID-19 social science-oriented publications for inclusion in the ISCE repository, contact Yancey Crawford.

- Written by Yancey Crawford