Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Center also wants social sciences to play a role

On 21 May, The Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness Center (PDPC) opened. Erasmus MC, EUR and TU Delft started this initiative to bring scientists together with an ambitious interdisciplinary research agenda to better prepare for future pandemics and disasters like floods or extreme heat. Professor Pearl Dykstra, Professor of Empirical Sociology, is committed to this centre because she believes that insights from the social, humanities and behavioural sciences are crucial.

As a result of globalisation and climate change, regions and countries will face more disasters and pandemics in the future. Governments and institutions must be prepared. The PDPC aims to map risks and vulnerabilities from various disciplines and develop suitable models and measures that will strengthen societal resilience in the event of a disaster or pandemic.

How do you see PDPC's role in researching these issues?

The initiative originated from Erasmus MC, TU Delft and EUR and fits within the Convergence Alliance, but we are an open initiative. Ultimately, we want a collaboration of researchers, including those from other universities, on the question of how to prevent pandemics and disasters, and if they cannot be prevented entirely, how best to act. This is a very complex question, which can only be answered with a wide range of expertise, data collection methods and analysis techniques. The PDPC plays a crucial connecting role. By transcending disciplines, we want to effectively improve the preparedness of healthcare, digital and physical infrastructure, the economy, public administration and citizens. Such an approach requires long-term investments.

Why is it important for social and behavioural scientists to join PDPC?

The corona crisis has carved out social divides in terms of the likelihood of being infected. Think of migrants or people sharing small living quarters. We have also seen inequality in the effects of measures. For example, especially young people suffer from stress. In addition, we have observed differences in the acceptance of measures. Rumours and conspiracy theories sow confusion and mistrust. Not everyone adheres to the physical-distance measures. The knowledge that has been must now be used for research into better preparation for future crises. How can inequality be reduced? How can misinformation be countered? How can more effective communication be achieved? To answer these kinds of questions, the social and behavioural scientists of ESSB or other faculties are certainly needed!

How will the PDPC facilitate multidisciplinary research?

It does not happen by itself, and it is crucial to invest time and energy. We now have a physical location for the PDPC in Erasmus MC, where researchers can sit down together and read each other's literature. Another step is to come to understand each other's language. Discussions across disciplinary boundaries need to be well-coordinated and organised, and this is where physical proximity helps. The idea is that young researchers start finding it self-evident to look beyond disciplines. They need to identify more with a subject than with a discipline. The PDPC will start with five 'frontrunner' projects, all of which will attract PhD students and postdocs from different disciplines. In addition, they will be supervised by researchers from different disciplines.

From 2015 to 2020, you were part of a group of seven scientists advising the European Commission on various topics. What are essential principles in PDPC's advice to governments and agencies?

When advising governments, the task of scientists is to evaluate the state of affairs is in a given field. What is known? What is not known? Where is there disagreement? Where is there uncertainty? This does not happen very often. Academics tend to be busy with their own research. In the PDPC the aim is to give advice based on multidisciplinary research and to explicitly pay attention to uncertainties in knowledge.

Pearly Dykstra at the opening of PDPC


About Prof. Dr. Pearl Dykstra

Pearl Dykstra is Professor of Empirical Sociology at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. From 2002 to 2009 she held the chair of kinship demography at Utrecht University and was senior researcher at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) in The Hague. She is scientific director of ODISSEI, the Open Data Infrastructure for Social Science and Economics Innovations, which received funding in 2020 from the Netherlands Roadmap for Large-scale Scientific Infrastructure. She is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and of Academia Europaea.

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