Zuckerberg on the role of sociology in Facebook’s success

A doctor recommending the liberal arts for pre-med students references Mark Zuckerberg describing Facebook in 2011:

“It’s as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.”

Zuckerberg went further in discussing the social aspects of Facebook:

“One thing that gets blown out of proportion is the emphasis on the individual,” he said. “The success of Facebook is really all about the team that we’ve built. In any company that’s going to be true. One of the things that we’ve focused on is keeping the company as small as possible … Facebook only has around 2,000 people. How do you do that? You make sure that every person you add to your company is really great.”…

On a more positive, social scale, Zuckerberg said the implications of Facebook stretch beyond simple local interactions and into fostering understanding between countries. One of Facebook’s engineers put together a website, peace.facebook.com, which tracks the online relationships between countries, including those that are historically at odds with one another.

Clearly, the sociological incentives are strong for joining Facebook as users are participating without being paid for their personal data. The social network site capitalizes on the human need to be social with the modern twist of having control of what one shares and with whom (though Zuckerberg has suggested in the past that he hopes Facebook opens people up to more sharing with new people).

I still haven’t seen much from sociologists on whether they think Facebook is a positive thing. Some scholars have made their position clear; for example, Sherry Turkle highlights how humans can become emotionally involved with robots and other devices. Given the explosion of new kinds of sociability in social networks, sociologists could be making more hay of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all of the new possibilities. But, perhaps it is (1) difficult to asses these changes so close to their start and (2) the discipline sees much more pressing issues such as race, class, and gender in other areas.

Update on sociology becoming part of the MCAT in January 2015

ASA’s Footnotes for December 2012 includes an article with more details on sociological material being included on the MCAT in upcoming years:

An important change in the MCAT® (the Medical College Admission Test) has the potential to have a significant impact on sociology departments across the country. In February 2012, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) “approved changes… that will require aspiring doctors to have an understanding of the social and behavioral sciences.” (Mann, 2012). The new version of the test, which will be in place by January of 2015, includes an entire section on the social and behavioral sciences. One implication of this change is that pre-medical curricula across the country may start requiring that students take an introductory sociology course (as well as an introductory course in psychology) in preparation for taking the MCAT (see, for example, Brenner and Ringe 2012)…

The exact content of sociology and psychology test questions is not yet finalized. Starting in January 2014 the new social science section of the MCAT will be included as an “optional” section. The cohort of students who take that first updated version of the MCAT are already enrolled in college. Students who choose to complete it will be compensated in some way. These trial runs will be used to modify the section before it “counts” as part of the MCAT score. Starting in January 2015 the test will include the required section on social and behavioral sciences.

The new section of the MCAT that tests sociology and psychology is described in a Preview Guide to the MCAT2015 Exam. The descriptions contained in that guide detail specific content areas within sociology (including “understanding social structure,” “demographic characteristics and processes,” “social stratification,” and “social inequality”) that will be covered on the test (AAMC 2012:12).

Two quick thoughts:

1. I’ve mentioned this change in my Intro classes a few times and I think some pre-med students were aware of what was happening. I can’t say for sure that I’ve had an uptick in students interested in medical fields but this article suggests this could happen in coming years.

2. While I think this makes a lot of sense for medical practitioners to have some knowledge of society and social life, I am amazed at times that more fields don’t explicitly train their students or ask them to take classes in social life. For example, isn’t business often about interacting with people as well as managing employees? Wouldn’t sociology provide insights into this?

The sociology knowledge you need to take the MCAT

I noted last year that the MCAT, the exam for applicants to medical school, was changing to include knowledge about sociology. Since then, I have been curious about what exact sociological knowledge is required for the exam and a report from the American Association of Medical Colleges provides some insights. Here is “Behavioral and Social Science
Learning Outcomes at Graduation” that sociology (and psychology) can fulfill (p.24 of the document):

Accurately describe how social determinants of health influence health outcomes and how physicians can incorporate this knowledge in the care of patients.

Here is how a sociological vantage point can help deal with a particular scenario (p.16):

A woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer is searching for a physician to help her think through her situation, set goals, and develop a “health strategy.” While waiting to meet with a new physician for consultation, she tells a medical student that she has been mostly receiving “treatment options,” instead of health strategies…

• How do we conceptualize the difference between a “health strategy” and “treatment options”?
• How is the care of a cancer patient embedded in a network of friends, family, and health care providers?

And here is a more broad statement about what the social sciences can bring to medicine (p.10):

Given the daunting breadth of behavioral and social science, the contributions from this family of sciences can best be understood by attending to three core areas: 1) the use of behavioral and social sciences theory, 2) behavioral and social science research methods, and 3) core behavioral and social science concepts and contributions to the fund of medical knowledge.

On the whole, it seems like sociology is meant to help doctors and health care providers understand the social and cultural context of the patient. Added to an expanded matrix of care, sociology helps provide a more holistic approach to medical care.

It seems like these requirements could be fulfilled by an Introduction to Sociology course though without seeing the particular questions on the MCAT, it is hard to know.