Written by Lauren Wind

Scientists like putting data into their own specific boxes. Scientists stack those boxes based on things like significance and trends. Then scientists are left looking at room full of neat boxes; and move onto filling up the next room with more boxes.

To me, it seems like scientists have become an experienced, 5-star rated moving company and we (I’m working on my PhD, so this is my tribe) tend to become disheveled when items do not fit into those neat, stackable boxes. We tend to stay away from the “noise” (less predicative and replicable situations), but in many cases it is in the “noise” where we find the deepest meaning behind our research.

Social Science is the HR department of our scientific moving company. Social science accommodates the uncertainty of human-nature coupled systems and uncovers the values, behaviors, and uniqueness of each group. When scientists start to consider that individuals cannot be put into neat stackable boxes, because that’s not the nature of living things… that can be when we start to grasp the deeper understanding of our research.

Historically, social science and natural science have not been best friends. These fields are often divided by unfortunate terms such as soft and hard science. Today, academics are starting to erase this line and merge the fields to satisfy reviewers of interdisciplinary grants and funding. However; there still seems to be this lack of respect between fields and ultimately this sense that social scientists feel the need to justify their work.

In the IGC Seminar, fellow Bennett Grooms led an interactive discussion on the importance and benefits of linking social science with conservation and ecological sciences. A review paper by Bennett et al. (2017) addresses the scope, successes, and failures of social science as applied to conservation practices.  It is written in a way to sell the benefits of social science to natural scientists. Bennet et al. (2017) says “conservation social sciences can be valuable for descriptive, diagnostic, disruptive, reflexive, generative, innovative, or instrumental reasons” for “document[ing] and describe[ing] the diversity of conservation practices”. Proposing the idea that scientists need to alter the lens at which they view research and consider that learned Behavior and Relationships may be more significant than once thought.

Incorporating a social science lens allows us to provide a depth to natural science data, and intrinsically bridge the gap between social and natural scientists. It will take time and effort from both sides, as most noteworthy research does not come fast nor easily. However; think about the research potential out there if scientists thought more about behavior and relationships of groups before categorically putting them in boxes. Perhaps, the frameshift here to consider is why are we putting groups into boxes in the first place?

Lauren Wind is a 2nd year PhD student in Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She studies in the Krometis and Hession labs. Wind spends her time researching the spread of antibiotic resistance in our agricultural ecosystems. In her free time, she can be found enjoying a cup of coffee and writing downtown somewhere in the shade under the red oak trees.