Web Panel: The Rise of Fake News at a Time of Crisis: Addressing Misinformation Related to COVID-19

October 16, 2020

Panelists: Dr. Regina Nuzzo, Dr. Matthew Facciani, and Dr. K. “Vish” Viswanath

The COVID-19 pandemic has been fraught with conflicting opinions and misinformation, making it difficult for the public to distinguish between reliable, factual information and fake news. Everyone grapples to find answers during this time of uncertainty, which provides fertile ground for misinterpretations of evidence and officials’ communication. While scientists are striving to understand the novel coronavirus and develop vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to protect individuals and communities, early stages of research do not lend well to scientific consensus, which leads to over-interpretation of divergent opinions, public mistrust, and heightened uncertainty. Not only might this result in distrust of future scientific developments, consequences may also include heightened vaccine hesitancy, extreme distrust in the government, and abandonment of practices that can save lives (Van Bavel et al., 2020). Constituents look to their leaders for answers; therefore, policymakers have a role in discussing factual evidence to address the public’s uncertainty during this time of crisis. This virtual panel will discuss not only what is contributing to the spread of misinformation around COVID-19 but also strategies for combating such misinformation through effective communication about the state of the science.

Panelist bios:


Dr. Regina Nuzzo

Dr. Regina Nuzzo is a statistics professor and award-winning science communicator. She has a PhD in Statistics from Stanford University and did her graduate training in science communication at University of California Santa Cruz. Her writings on health, medicine, probability, statistics, and the research process have appeared in Scientific American, Science News, Reader’s Digest, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among others. She was featured in PBS’s NOVA: Prediction by the Numbers and has given talks around the world on how not to fool yourself with statistics. She is currently a professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, and Senior Advisor for Statistics Communication at the American Statistical Association.

Dr. Matthew Facciani

Dr. Matthew Facciani is a postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University in the Medicine, Health, and Society department. He received a BA in Psychology from Westminster College and MA and PhD in Sociology from The University of South Carolina. His research interests include LGBTQ health, social networks, political polarization, and misinformation. Facciani’s writing on political polarization and misinformation has appeared in The Conversation, Snopes, Salon, The Houston Chronicle, and other outlets. Facciani has also given talks about his research to audiences around the country and has provided scientific testimony to policy makers.

Dr. K. “Vish” Viswanath

Dr. K. “Vish” Viswanath is a Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and in the McGraw-Patterson Center for Population Sciences at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). He is also the Faculty Director of the Health Communication Core of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC). Dr. Viswanath’s work, drawing from literatures in communication science, social epidemiology, and social and health behavior sciences, focuses on translational communication science to influence public health policy and practice. His primary research is in documenting the relationship between communication inequalities, poverty and health disparities, and knowledge translation to address health disparities. He has served and is continuing to serve on several national committees including for the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine.

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