I consider myself fortunate to follow three extraordinary human beings who have made remarkable contributions to broadening traditional disciplinary boundaries in social science, life science, and the interconnectedness of both. They are –
- Nobel Laureate Gary S. Becker, who has made historic changes to the study of economics and the social sciences, combining disciplines to understand decisions in everyday life, while spawning rich new questions for scholars in diverse fields to pursue;
- Chief Surgeon at the National Cancer Institute Steven A. Rosenberg, who has pioneered the development of immunotherapy – one of the greatest revolutions in the treatment of cancer – that has resulted in the FIRST effective immunotherapy for selected patients with advanced cancer;
- Physician, Sociologist, Professor of Social and Natural Science Nicholas A. Christakis, who directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University which focuses on the relationship between social networks and well-being in the areas of Biosocial Science.
Besides interdisciplinary research interests they all share, I discovered through reading Becker’s biography and listening to Rosenberg’s interview with the Academy of Achievement, something surprisingly similar in how they persevered through challenges in their early career life.
Gary S. Becker
When Becker was a young scholar, his career was fraughted with controversies. Economists used to question the value of his analysis of social problems. “For a long time, my type of work was either ignored or strongly disliked by most of the leading economists, … I was considered way out and perhaps not really an economist.” said Becker in his autobiography. Interestingly, those early challenges only strengthened Becker’s work, according to James Heckman, a winner of 2000 Nobel Prize in economic science. “He persevered in a scholarly way,” said Heckman, “He didn’t just listen to the critics—he responded to the critics. It always enriched him.” Becker became one of the most cited economists and an inspiration to many generations of economics students and scholars around the world. Becker pioneered in the development of human capital which serves as a theoretical foundation for microeconomic analysis of many types of human behaviours including health behaviour that were previously considered as largely irrational. I was intrigued by Becker’s summary piece on “Health as Human Capital, synthesis and extensions” published in 2007 on Oxford Economic Papers. I will elaborate on this subject in the next section.
Steven A. Rosenberg
Dr. Rosenberg received his MD from Johns Hopkins University and have been working as a chief surgeon at National Cancer Institute for more than four decades. During all these years, Dr. Rosenberg has doggedly pursued this radical idea – that a patient’s immune system could be sparked or retrained to attack cancer cells. It’s an idea that was dismissed by most of the medical establishment for a long time, until patients with terminal melanoma began to survive, cancer-free, under Dr. Rosenberg’s care. The Head of NIH called Dr. Rosenberg absolutely a hero, and immunotherapy has become one of the hottest areas of medical research around the world.
Nicholas A. Christakis
The first time I heard about Dr. Christakis was through Dr. Andrew Oswald‘s article “Time for a Makeover?” a commentary on Dr. Christakis’ “brave, intriguing, and fiery” op-ed article appeared on the New York Times titled “Let’s Shake Up Social Sciences” before his visit in the UK.
In the NYT article, Dr. Christakis was highly critical of the way modern social science is done. He said “the social sciences have stagnated. … There are diminishing returns from the continuing study of many such (classic) topics. And repeatedly observing these phenomena (such as monopoly power, racial profiling and health inequality) does not help us fix them.”
He called for more “interdisciplinary efforts” that generate “practical insights about fundamental problems like chronic illness, … , pandemic disease, … , intergenerational poverty” among many other issues.
Like Oswald and Goodall, I too tend to believe that Dr. Christakis is right about social science. As I discover more about his research in biosocial science, I found many of his studies yield truly insightful and inspirational results to say the least. I plan on introducing more of his research in the future, provided that I complete my summary on schedule.