“Hard Problems” in the Social Sciences

A Harvard symposium, and input from the public, identify the most urgent problems for social scientists to solve.

Eminent scholars of the social sciences gathered at Harvard in April 2010 to identify what they believed to be the hardest and most important problems in their disciplines. But that was just the beginning of the conversation: the event organizers created an online discussion page, as well as discussions on Facebook, and invited the public to rank the problems and to submit their own if they felt a truly important problem was missing from the list. The results were surprising.

 

 

Problems that appear in green were proposed by scholars in the social sciences at the April 2010 Harvard symposium. Problems that appear in blue were proposed by the public on Facebook. The public was asked to rank the problems on a scale of 1 to 6 in terms of importance, and 1 to 6 in terms of difficulty. The scores were parsed in different ways; what’s below is the “Super Top Ten” of the problems that most consistently scored high. The three columns show where each problem ranked in terms of sheer importance, sheer difficulty, and the “Zec score,” in which extreme difficulty counts against a problem in deciding which problems to tackle first. (See the article text for a fuller explanation.) A Ø sign means the problem did not rank in the top 10 on this scale.

You might also like

Threats Foreign and Domestic

Joseph Nye discusses geopolitics and Harvard’s challenges.

Harvard’s New Football Coach: A Real Tiger

The magazine’s football correspondent advises fans to deal with it.

The Interim President’s Agenda

Alan Garber on campus speech, academics, and his other Harvard priorities

Most popular

Open Book: The Photographer’s Art

Robin Kelsey probes the place of photography within art.

An Ipswich Idyll

Restorations revive the grand spirit of a North Shore estate.

Harvard Corporation to Drop Law School Shield Linked to Slavery

The announcement follows a Law School committee’s recommendation to abandon the shield. 

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults