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Jamie Jones leads NSF pandemic preparedness initiative

The researchers aim to advise both NSF and the federal government more broadly about near-term funding priorities and future preparedness. 

BY Danielle Torrent Tucker
ClockJuly 29, 2021

Biological anthropologist James Holland Jones is guiding exploration of the relationship between human behavior and pandemics through a new National Science Foundation (NSF) program, Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention (PIPP).

Profile image for James Holland Jones
James Holland Jones

As director of the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences division of the initiative, Jones is focusing on the fundamental research and capabilities needed to tackle challenges in infectious disease pandemics through prediction and prevention. The work is an effort to develop improved intelligence systems to forecast and prevent a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, by detecting disease and providing guidance on control measures before an epidemic can spread and become a pandemic. The researchers aim to advise both NSF and the federal government more broadly about near-term funding priorities and future preparedness. NSF has hosted four webinars as part of the project since February, including a “Human” Workshop in March.

“Human behavior and the structure of our societies affect everything about infectious diseases of pandemic potential, from their emergence to their transmission dynamics to their control and eradication,” said Jones, an associate professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences(Stanford Earth). “However, the systematic study of the role of human behavior and social organization has been nearly absent from attempts at pandemic prediction, prevention and control. With this project, we have made substantial progress in correcting this omission.”

Jones’ involvement with PIPP complements his 2020 NSF COVID-19 RAPID grant on identity and behavior change. The two projects aim to fill a gap in understanding how human behavior – such as hygiene practices, social distancing and wearing a mask – and social organization – such as political polarization and the cohesiveness of communities – contribute to the spread of disease and our ability to control it through public health interventions.

“Hopefully, these various initiatives will lead to something larger and programmatic,” Jones said. “We need to get the word out that human behavior and pandemics need to be studied.”

Jones is optimistic about the program’s potential to increase interest and expertise on the social science of pandemics. He is also working in partnership with Margaret Levi, the Sara Miller McCune Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), to explore other avenues for studying social dimensions of potentially existential threats to humanity.

“One of the key ideas is to expand training for social scientists not just to working on problems of epidemics or pandemics, but broader problems of societal consequence,” Jones said.

Jones is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Levi is a professor of political science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

COVID-19 in a world made ripe for pandemics

Emerging infectious diseases have become more likely – and more likely to be consequential – partly as a result of how people move around the planet and relate to the natural world.

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Media Contacts

Danielle T. Tucker

School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

dttucker@stanford.edu, 650-497-9541

James Holland Jones

School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

jhj1@stanford.edu

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