A Note from the Executive Director: Telling the Pandemic Story
As the generally devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic settle upon us, it is both astonishing to think of what our nation, and the world, has already endured and bewildering to consider a path to recovery. “Recovery,” of course, likely does not adequately capture what’s ahead, given that this catastrophe will almost certainly re-order national priorities and create opportunities for re-casting institutions and politics in ways that we can’t yet grasp.
We in the social science community are starting to wrap our collective imagination around current events and what they portend (“We’re going to be writing about this for generations,” a colleague said to me recently). Our priorities will need to change as rapidly as the circumstances we face, and as we consider what we have to contribute, it’s worth keeping in the front of our minds what, exactly, we do well—both within our research disciplines and among the societies that aim to represent those disciplines.
Through the AAPSS, the descriptive and analytic power of the social sciences has found expression principally in The ANNALS—enabling great scholars who understand the nuances of qualitative and quantitative data and statistics to tell coherent stories about critical social challenges to a broad audience. For the AAPSS, the diversity of thought and methods represented in our disciplines is one of the greatest strengths of the social sciences, and we will be telling the story of COVID-19’s broad effects in The ANNALS.
If it’s to be done well, this work will take time (the development and availability of important statistics, for example, will lag), disciplined thought (what social, economic, and institutional stories to tell, why and how?), and political agnosticism. These are qualities that are in abundant supply among our Fellows, and among The ANNALS’ authors and special editors. I look forward to seeing where this work takes us, because we must learn from this horrible episode, and be better prepared and more resilient when similar challenges inevitably come.
My aim for the AAPSS is to emphasize quality evidence and diversity of thought in the content that we develop to inform the nation of this pandemic’s effects. There is no doubt that drastic steps in public policy are needed right now to respond to the economic and social havoc that COVID-19 brought to the world. Over the long haul, though, the work of the social sciences should be to contribute to political and policy wisdom, not to expediency. I’ve written elsewhere about the ways in which high-quality social science can promote patience and moderation in longer-term approaches to policy, and I’m hopeful that the AAPSS can make such contributions in the months and years ahead.
From my home quarantine in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, you have my very best wishes for good health and emotional endurance.
AAPSS Executive Director