SSRC Launches $10 Million Project to Combat Health Misinformation

Black and white drawing of Roman god Mercury

In the wake of the pandemic of suspect “facts” shared about COVID-19, social and behavioral scientists from around the world are encouraged to join a new three-year project of the Social Science Research Council aimed at battling mis- and disinformation in public health.

The Mercury Project is a global consortium of researchers dedicated to combating the impacts of mis- and disinformation on public health and to finding interventions that support the spread and uptake of accurate health information. “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,” said Anna Harvey, president of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).

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

  • 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.

The project, which takes it name from Mercury, the Roman god of messages and communication, has $7.5 million in seed funding from The Rockefeller Foundation, $2 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and $500,000 from Craig Newmark Philanthropies for a total of $10 million. And on December 3, the Sloan Foundation joined the list of financial supporters.

Mercury 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.

According to the SSRC, the call for proposals comes in response to pleas from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General, and the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder 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.

“The Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder focused its recommendations on reducing the worst harms, creating transparency, and building trust,” noted Chris Krebs, founding director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and co-chair of the Commission on Information Disorder. “This initiative does all three: it addresses public health risks, which put everyone in harm’s way, and it seeks to create an evidence-based model using data, which builds both trust and accountability.”

The Mercury Project 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. Research projects of up to 30 months must address one or more of the following:

  • Estimating the causal impacts of mis- and disinformation on online and offline outcomes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, including health, economic, and/or social outcomes, differential impacts across sociodemographic groups, and quantifying the global costs of those impacts;
  • Estimating the causal impacts of online or offline interventions in the United States, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America to increase uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and other recommended public health measures by countering mis- and disinformation, including interventions that target the producers or the consumers of mis- and disinformation, or that increase confidence in reliable information.

Primary applicant organizations must be tax-exempt organizations or the equivalent in the local context (e.g., nonprofit organizations, universities, governmental units). Preference will be given to research teams that are interdisciplinary and that include a diverse set of researchers and institutions, including researchers and institutions located in the country in which the study is being conducted and that have deep contextual knowledge and connections. For proposals that seek to evaluate the causal impacts of offline interventions, preference will be given to projects that engage local public, nonprofit, and/or private organizations, and that propose interventions likely to be cost-effective at scale. There is no maximum award amount. For more details on the inquiry process, the SSRC offers complete details here.

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Social Science Research Council

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is an independent, international, nonprofit organization founded in 1923. It fosters innovative research, nurtures new generations of social scientists, deepens how inquiry is practiced within and across disciplines, and mobilizes necessary knowledge on important public issues. The Council collaborates with practitioners, policymakers, and academic researchers in the social sciences, related professions, and with colleagues in the humanities and natural sciences. We build interdisciplinary and international networks, work with partners around the world to link research to practice and policy, strengthen individual and institutional capacities for learning, and enhance public access to social knowledge.

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