National Science Foundation awards CIP researchers $200,000 grant

Emma Spiro
Emma Spiro

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded grant funding for a proposal submitted by researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public (CIP) who are aiming to better understand how scientific knowledge, expertise, data and communication affect the spread and correction of online misinformation about an emerging pandemic. 

The approximately $200,000 in funding was awarded through NSF’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program. CIP principal investigators Emma Spiro, an assistant professor at the UW Information School, Kate Starbird, an associate professor in UW’s Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, and Jevin West, an associate professor in the Information School, will look at how a crisis situation like the COVID-19 pandemic can make the collective sensemaking process more vulnerable to misinformation.

“We’re incredibly excited for the work ahead. It comes at a time when the need to understand the way in which information and data are shared and amplified couldn’t be greater,” Spiro said.

According to the proposal’s public abstract, the team plans to “investigate how information moves through social media platforms and jumps to other media platforms (including traditional journalism — online, print, broadcast), and especially the role of various influencers (journalists, celebrities, social media heroes) in shaping that information flow. [They] aim to uncover how claims and statistics related to scientific knowledge and/or expertise shape — and are shaped by — these information and influence dynamics.”

Earlier this spring, the University of Washington’s Population Health Initiative awarded $20,000 one of its 21 COVID-19 rapid-response grants to Spiro, Starbird and West, as well. Their work seeks to better understand online discourse during the ongoing pandemic and come up with strategies for improving collective action and sensemaking within science and society.

Both projects will be coordinated through the Center for an Informed Public, where researchers are “uniquely positioned to interrogate this data, track these rumors and ask, for example, how non-experts have risen so quickly in influence and directed the conversation sometimes more than the experts and public health officials. We can examine specific rumors and conspiracy theories to see where they are amplified and where they are refuted. ”

CIP’s work funded through the NSF RAPID and UW Population Health Initiative grants will both draw upon the Center’s work to collect coronavirus-related tweets, an effort which has now captured more than 1 billion tweets since January 2020.