December 1, 2021

Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Launches a $10 Million Project to Combat the Growing Mis- and Disinformation Crisis in Public Health

From SSRC:

The Social Science Research Council announced the creation of The Mercury Project, a three-year, $10 million investment to combat the growing threat of mis- and disinformation on public health in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic with $7.5 million in seed funding from The Rockefeller Foundation and an additional $2 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and $500K from Craig Newmark Philanthropies. Responding to calls from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General, and the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, the Call for Proposals opened today seeks ambitious teams worldwide to quantify the scope of the problem and its impact on society, as well as identify tools, methods, and interventions that better support people’s health across nations.

“We need to stop thinking about misinformation and disinformation as just a technology problem,” said Bruce Gellin, Chief of Global Public Health Strategy at The Rockefeller Foundation. “This requires swift, strategic, and synergized efforts embodied in the vision of The Mercury Project, a landmark effort to tackle these problems and build solutions we can use long after this pandemic is over to help protect us from any future pandemic threats.”

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“This pandemic has revealed the real and physical risks that mis- and disinformation in our media environment pose to us all. Currently we lack knowledge about cost-effective interventions that may be able to counter the effects of mis- and dis-information, and support the uptake of reliable and accurate information,” said Anna Harvey, President of the Social Science Research Council. “But evidence, data, and collaboration are cornerstones to solving many of society’s global issues, and the researchers in The Mercury Project consortium will lay the groundwork to improve public health now and for decades to come.”

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The Mercury Project will fund projects based in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Latin America for up to three years and will, for the first time, connect organizations fighting public health misinformation on five continents and provide an opportunity to share resources and communicate best practices. A significant part of the program will include annual international convenings of grantees, other researchers, and leaders in policy and technology to develop joint recommendations that advance global public health.

The Mercury Project is accepting applications for projects examining the causes and costs of health mis- and disinformation online and/or offline that pioneer one or more of the following:

  • Interventions that remove obstacles people face to accessing reliable health information;
  • Solutions that create equity in access to health information;
  • Effective approaches to increasing Covid-19 vaccination efforts that will also inform future vaccine uptake efforts.

“Mis- and disinformation disproportionately impacts communities of color and plays out in the context of structural racism and a history of medical abuse and neglect in this country. It feeds off of racial tensions and deep-seated socioeconomic anxieties in ways that are harmful to individual health and trust in community institutions” said Dr. Alonzo Plough, Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Research-Evaluation-Learning at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We need to understand how an individual’s information ecosystem forms and evolves and what makes it vulnerable to mis- and disinformation; we need to develop more targeted interventions to counteract mis- and disinformation; and we need better ways to ensure that everyone has access to accurate, high-quality information from a source they can trust. Research on these topics will help to define the future role for public health in keeping our information environment safe.”

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The Mercury Project, which alludes to the ancient Roman god Mercury of messages and communication, is accepting initial letters of inquiry on a rolling basis from now through May 1, 2022. Applicants are encouraged to submit their letters as soon as possible, and successful applicants are invited to submit a full proposal. More information about the application process and criteria can be found here on the Social Science Research Council’s website.

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Direct to Mercury Project Website

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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