DLF Talk - Irrationality Rules

What type of human behaviour do infectious diseases expose? What do these insights tell us about our society? Together with NIAS Fellow and epidemiologist Luc Coffeng, writer and anthropologist Ginny Mooy, and behavioural scientist Will Tiemeijer this program aims to unravel the interplay between infectious diseases and health related behaviour and beliefs. Why is it so hard for us to accept and address the reality that infectious diseases impose on us?

It is safe to say that what people perceive as healthy behaviour in the context of infectious diseases is rather complex: risk assessment varies per person and is heavily influenced by friends and family. Even though we know better, many of us indulge in risky behaviour; obviously, going to crowded parties is more satisfying than staying at home.


In the attempt to prevent the virus from spreading, governments struggle with this type of behaviour. Yet, they tend to overlook their own premises; policy and restrictions often presuppose ideal, rational citizens. People who keep physical distance at all times, do not mind working from home, and wear their mouth caps willingly. However, reality tells another story: as it turns out irrationality often rules. Why is it so hard for us to accept and address the reality that infectious diseases impose on us? And how can mathematical modelling help us understand and deal with this?


About the speakers


Luc Coffeng is Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health at Erasmus MC, University Medical Center in Rotterdam. Coffeng is trained as a medical doctor and epidemiologist. Coffeng is this year’s Distinguished Lorentz Fellow at NIAS where he aims to unravel how human behavior influences the spread of infectious diseases and the other way around. Coffeng is currently active in the Science vs. Corona Collective, a Dutch collective of scientists from both exact and social sciences, whose interactive online app for different exit-strategies of the Covid-19 pandemic received wide-spread attention.


Ginny Mooy is a cultural anthropologist and sociologist of non-western societies. During the corona pandemic she has been a member of the critical Corona Red Team, monitoring national response, the dynamics between politics and behavior. Her independent research focuses on political and behavioral patterns influencing the pandemic in The Netherlands and Sierra Leone.


Will Tiemeijer is Professor of Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His research interests center on the interconnections between behavioral science, politics and government. Tiemeijer will be a discussant in this talk.


Jan Willem Duyvendak (moderator) is Director of NIAS and Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology, University of Amsterdam.



17.00h Welcome and opening by Jan Willem Duyvendak (moderator)

17.05 – 17.20 Presentatie by Luc Coffeng, Distinguished Lorentz Fellow

17.20 – 17.40 Responses by discussants Ginny Mooy and Will Tiemeijer

17.40 – 18.15 Paneldiscussion



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