Being a Social Scientist in the Age of “alternative facts”

As a Black social scientist who studies public health disparities, I use data, the scientific method, and research methods to explain findings from research. Often times, these findings dispel myths and “common sense” interpretations that are based on entrenched ideas about Black people and why we tend to have poorer health outcomes as a population in the United States. Uninformed and lazy interpretations of racial differences in health outcomes are often based on arguments of biological essentialism and cultural deficiency, rather historical and structural policies and efforts that consistently marginalize the wellness of Black people. Far too often studies that complicate commonly held narratives about Black people are not highlighted and do not change commonly held tropes or stereotypes. For example, despite research that suggest Black fathers spend more time with their children, many believe in the stereotype that Black fathers are deficient. Or, the fact that Black women are outpacing Black men in education (enrollment and graduation rates) and are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S (this, in fact, may have fueled misogynoir) does not eliminate incidents of misogynoir.

Unlike the scientist who study chemistry or physics, social scientist regularly battle bias, stereotypes, and narratives that have long been used to explain social differences with data and research (or at least they should side-eye). Rigorous research methods are supposed to minimize this but bias and differences in interpretations happen. Yet, interpretations of findings and subsequent conclusions are subject to researcher bias, which is often a function of a researcher’s worldview, research training, perspective, etc. Worldviews are often entrenched in upbringing and societal norms and may be impervious to eliminate bias. As a social scientist, I have been trained to rigorously analyze public health problems with data, facts, and rigorous research methods in order to make well-informed decisions and policies.

Which is why I just cannot with “alternative facts” (i.e. lies) and its rise as a thing.

Fighting against health inequities with research is often an uphill battle. In this climate, it seems as if the hill is even steeper. For me, I see this climate a challenge and rallying force — I am going to dig my heels deeper into my integrity as a social scientist.