NSF Awards $576,061 to Combat Science Misinformation in Black Communities

Keeping with its mission of combating disinformation, the Biden administration is giving professors at a public university over half a million dollars to fight science-related misinformation and misperceptions in black communities. The goal is to counter inequity and mistrust in scientific information and understand science misinformation in black communities, according to the government agency that is doling out the money for the research, the National Science Foundation (NSF). “Black American experiences can pose particular challenges for effective communication on issues related to science and medicine, and recent misinformation campaigns have increasingly sought to capitalize on beliefs underlying mistrust within Black communities to spread misinformation,” the grant document states.

The funds—$576,061—will go to three professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who assert that “Black Americans continue to face oppression and medical racism.” Their taxpayer-funded study will help change that by better understanding how black communities perceive the science and health information they encounter and by learning the degree to which individuals see and process health and science misinformation. “Our goal is to develop insights that reflect the unique and diverse experiences of Black Americans, and that can help promote better and more culturally competent and responsive communication about science-related issues within Black communities across the country,” said one of the professors in a university publication celebrating the government grant. Another college article states that the NSF funds “will support research that will help guide more effective and inclusive public engagement efforts and provide practitioners with new insight on how to responsibly address past and present racial inequities across a variety of scientific and policy areas.”

A portion of the money will go towards understanding specific ways that underlying beliefs and world views about scientific institutions are related to science misperceptions among black Americans, say the academics, who are partnering with a network of community groups dedicated to reducing health disparities. The other part of the research will focus on working in black communities to develop communication strategies for more effective efforts to combat science-related misinformation and misperceptions. “Black American experiences can pose particular challenges for effective communication on issues related to science and medicine, and recent misinformation campaigns have increasingly sought to capitalize on beliefs underlying mistrust within Black communities to spread misinformation,” states the NSF grant document. “While phenomena related to the COVID-19 pandemic are most timely, there is a need to develop community-driven, effective strategies for public communications targeted toward Black Americans on a range of science-related issues, based on detailed findings about specific beliefs and attitudes relevant to the unique experiences Black Americans have with science.”

The study will begin by using black focus groups to identify key topics and issues in which the demographic encounters “science-related misinformation.” Based on the findings, seasoned communication practitioners “with a history of combatting misinformation in Black American communities” will develop a toolkit to guide other science communicators engaged in similar efforts across a range of science-related issues. The strategies from the toolkit will then be evaluated in “national survey experiments administered to Black American samples,” according to the NSF. Throughout the taxpayer-funded study a series of community conversations will support rich dialogue between researchers and community members, ensuring that insights and recommended communication strategies position the “lived experiences” of black Americans as “integral to their engagement with scientific information, institutions, and careers.”

This is the latest of many controversial projects funded by the Biden administration to combat misinformation. The movement started with a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) panel known as the Disinformation Governance Board, which was technically dismantled after major backlash. Taxpayer dollars keep flowing to related causes, however. Just a few weeks ago, millions in DHS terrorism prevention grants went to combat “misinformation and disinformation” and to promote media literacy. It is part of a broader effort to divert public funds for a fictitious crisis created by the Biden administration to control information.

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