Reading List for Failing Institutions
A list of books for investigating how public health institutions built up trust and then burned it all down.
I’m currently deep in the research phase of writing my book on the collapse of institutional science. Since March 2020, I have read a lot of books that touched on the rise of scientific institutions, but did so in the context of other stories or themes.
I’m still trying to sort out and categorize a lot of this information. There was a crescendo of scientific institutionalism from 1910-1940, which seems to correspond with an escalating confidence in the practical application of science to solve large-scale social problems.
I’m still looking for additional resources. I’m particularly interested in books or articles on the Tuskegee Study (and what that did to institutional trust in the black community) and books or studies on malaria, polio, and hookworm eradication.
If you have a book or set of books that touches on these ideas, history, or themes, please recommend it in the comments.
Revolt of the Public is Martin Gurri’s exceptional analysis on how the information and mobile revolutions have impacted information flow and the ability of the public to discover information and act in a world of open communication.
I adore this book because Gurri has no agenda. He’s not trying to convince you that any of these things are inherently good or bad. I think he shows a preference for open debate and free speech, but his bigger concern is to look at the changing nature of information flow and the social connection to formal authorities and ask:
What attitudes and social mores are changing ?
Why are they changing? What events trigger the changes?
How are things changing? Through what patterns or mechanisms, through what people or what attitudes?
How far can this change go? Where does it make the most difference and where does it stall out?
How are authority figures responding to these changes? What are their goals and are they able to achieve them?
The vast majority of this book is observational; it is a book meant to help us understand a changing world. As such, it doesn’t suffer (as so many other books do) from any hopeful authorial aspirations or any call to action on how the world should be. I love Gurri’s cautious and objective approach and I hope to mirror that in my own writing.