Ashish Jha: Doctors must train for the new battlefield of information—social media

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a mural promoting awareness of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on June 24, 2021. Photo via REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana.

Watch the full event

Internet Generic

Wed, Jun 2, 2021

360/Open Summit: The world in motion

June 22 – 25, 2021

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) hosts 360/Open Summit: The World in Motion on June 22-25 online.

Event transcript

Speaker
Dr. Ashish Jha
Dean of the School of Public Health, Brown University

Moderator
Renee DiResta
Technical Research Manager, Stanford Internet Observatory

RENEE DIRESTA: I think that that—you know, “Plandemic” is really the perfect lead-in to our conversation here with Dr. Ashish Jha. Dr. Ashish Jha has done some really great, ground-breaking research around Ebola. He’s been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, leading national and international analysis advising—around key issues, as well as advising policymakers at both the state and federal level.

And I’d love to just start with a little bit of foundational knowledge on what’s been different this time? How has the work that you did on Ebola—you know, I recall personally seeing many misinformation narratives around Ebola when, there were a couple patients in the US. This was a major topic of international attention. Compared to what we’ve seen now with COVID and the information dynamics there.

ASHISH JHA: Yeah, so, Renee, thank you for that question. And all of you, thanks for having us here.

You know, I am somebody who’s spent my whole life studying public health. And I’ve had a mental model of how public-health-knowledge communication happens, how information flows. But I started getting tested a little bit during the Ebola outbreak, where I first saw a sort of misinformation starting to play a sizable role. It has played a role in other pandemics as well. But what is happened in the COVID-19 pandemic, I think, has taken all of us in the public-health community completely by surprise. While you had narratives come up during the Ebola outbreak of, you know, what caused the outbreak, what was going on, you could counter it pretty easily and get people to understand what the disease was, how to manage it, how to respond to it.

During this pandemic, I have… at some point I realized: There’s all the complexity around the virus itself and understanding the science and understanding how to respond to it. But the misinformation and the disinformation that was in the ecosystem was unlike anything I had ever seen or read about from history or experience. And it really ended up becoming a very large part of what I think hobbled us as a country and as a globe and continues to plague us today. It really is stuff we’ve seen before, but at a very, very different level.

RENEE DIRESTA: Do you think the difference was scale and scope of this disease? Or do you think it was perhaps more the changing information infrastructure and architecture in the, I think, four-odd years since the Ebola outbreak?

ASHISH JHA: Yeah, can I say yes? Like, I think it was both, right? (Laughter.)

RENEE DIRESTA: Sure.

ASHISH JHA: I mean, so on one hand just forget the information architecture and how that has changed over the last five years. And I want to come back to that. Just the size and scope of this outbreak and this pandemic is unlike anything we’ve seen in a century. And so that unto itself is going to, under any circumstance, create a lot more anxiety, a lot more uncertainty. It’s going to create what I think is kind of the perfect medium for misinformation. And so even if this pandemic had happened twenty years ago, I think we would have seen a lot more than we did, for instance, under Ebola.

But of course, the information architecture for our kind of world has changed in this very, very dramatic way. And I think most of us in public health were not aware of that, the rise of kind of—the sheer amount of, like, bots and other kind of automated information that’s plaguing or filling up our Twitter timelines, or the way information is—misinformation is created and spread. Like, I just—no one in public health had any training on the subject at all. And I think we were floored by it. And I think that’s different because of the information architecture we have now.

RENEE DIRESTA: I remember in 2015 or 2016, I think it was, speaking to some folks at the Berkeley School of Public Health. And what we were talking about was the measles outbreak, actually, and the subsequent fight in California to eliminate vaccine opt-outs. And the thing that was so interesting about that was I remember a student in the audience, a public-health student, asking, “Do you think that we need to be spending more time on Twitter?” Because my presentation was about how public health was largely absent in that conversation, how the anti-vaxxers were kind of running the game on Twitter at the time.

And I remembered receiving the question and feeling like it would be so outrageous to tell doctors and public-health workers that they needed to be Twitter more. You know, surely they had better things to do. I’m curious how you think about that today. Do you feel that that communication function has really become an integral part of public health? Or do you think that those two things should remain separate in some way?

ASHISH JHA: Yeah, I think it has become integral. Like, I think there is no way to be a public-health person—because look, public health isn’t just about health. It’s also about the public, right? You got to engage the public. You got to engage the conversation that is happening nationally. And you got to shape that conversation. The idea that you can do that completely staying off of social media I think is a fantasy. And I have come to realize that, in fact, social media is a great platform for spreading information, for spreading good information. Good information can go viral quite effectively as well.

So I have come to believe that the next generation of public-health figures all absolutely have to be trained in these things, have to engage in these things. Otherwise, we leave this new medium completely wide open to one group of people who are very, very good at exploiting it and using it for nefarious purposes. You just can’t walk out of the battlefield. This is the battlefield of information now. And you know, hearts and minds of the public are won by it.

And the reason it’s so important is because in [an] outbreak like this, you need collective action, right? You need people to wear masks. Well, you’ve got to have everybody wearing them or most people wearing them. You’ve got to have most people getting vaccinated. And that means you’ve got to engage the public in a very, very deep and personal way. I don’t know how you do that today without being on social media.

RENEE DIRESTA: One of the challenges that struck me in the early days of the pandemic was really that the influencer dynamics were really quite tilted towards whoever had influence already, right? So if you had large followings, then people were going to pay attention to what you said. And that was just the structure of your megaphone, and it didn’t matter whether you had expertise or not. And so this led me to think a little bit about, you know, Twitter began to verify doctors. It tried to elevate authoritative voices in particular so that just influential loud voices that were not necessarily experts in any way or did—or were, in fact, sometimes spreading completely wrong information would not be the only thing that the public saw. I’m curious how you think about that sustained engagement. You know, where do you want to see public-health officials and government moving forward as we enter into what is hopefully the tail end of the pandemic? Do you think it’s the tail end of the pandemic?

ASHISH JHA: It is certainly the better end of the pandemic in the United States. But about an hour ago I got off a Zoom call with a group of leaders across the African continent. It is not anywhere near the tail end for Africa, for much of Asia. So the pandemic is going to be with us and is going to continue to challenge us probably for another twelve to eighteen months, but I think in the US, we’re certainly on the much, much better side of things.

Two thoughts, really, as you sort of were talking about this. I mean, one is, you know, on a personal level, I got verified during the pandemic. I don’t even remember when. I want to say like June or July [or] at some point over the summer. And it was interesting to see Twitter make a decision to start verifying people as a way to try to bring more credibility—or, credible voices to the conversation. And I thought that was great, by the way.

There are plenty of people who spread massive amounts of misinformation who are verified as well. So it’s not like verification is any kind of a tool for credibility. But I shouldn’t say it’s not any good. It does add a little, but there’s plenty of examples of people who actively spread misinformation. And I’m thinking specifically, for instance, of a guy named Alex Berenson, who is a former New York Times reporter who’s probably spread more misinformation in this pandemic than anyone else I can think of and can has pretty consistently been wrong on everything. He’s verified and he’s been out there for a very long time.

So it is interesting to ask the question, “What is Twitter’s responsibility?” Is verification seen as some sort of endorsement? Or is it purely an authenticating mechanism like, yeah, this person really is who they say they are? I think that’s a really important part of the debate that we ought to be having, and Twitter ought to be having internally, for how they do it.

You know, in terms of as this pandemic ends—I mean, whether it’s now, or six months, or eighteen months from now the pandemic will end, because every pandemic ends—there’s a very important question of how do public-health people stay engaged. I mean, first of all, I hope that the world thinks less on a daily basis about pandemics because, my God, it has dominated all of our lives and we all need to get back to thinking about other stuff. But there are a lot of public-health challenges, including preventing the next pandemic, that’s going to be really important, and I hope that the public-health community is able to really stay engaged in those issues, to continue to drive improvements in people’s health, because that’s going to be a really necessary part of recovering from the pandemic.

RENEE DIRESTA: So one of the reasons that some of the folks that you’ve mentioned, the influencers… aren’t spreading credible information or are spreading misinformation, is that they enjoy the trust of their audience. And thinking about that trust relationship, which is a far bigger problem than social media, but just thinking about, how can public-health officials begin using these tools to sustain or grow the trust of the public in these intervening times?

ASHISH JHA: That’s a really good question. So I’ll tell you some of the things that I personally tried to do that I’ve seen colleagues do that I think is good practice. So, right, we’re in a pandemic with a novel virus. What does that mean? It means none of us are going to get everything right. There have been plenty of things that I thought were going to happen in a certain way that turned out not to happen that way, and I learned something.

So one part of building trust is acknowledging error. When Texas, in March, said they were lifting all their mask mandates, I thought it was a problem. I thought it was going to lead to a spike in cases in Texas. Guess what? It didn’t. I was wrong about that. So acknowledging that when you get it wrong and saying, yep, I got that part wrong, and trying to explain to people why and what you’ve learned out of that, I think, is really important.

There are times when I tweet things that I realize land completely in a different way than I intended. I meant to say A. I was trying to be a little bit, you know, pithy or cute, and if people understand it as B, and then it’s a challenge. What do you do, especially if it’s bound to be retweeted a lot? And, you know, so I’ve been trying, and I’d encourage other people to do some basic stuff like delete it, take a picture of it, explain why you’re deleting it. Being able to acknowledge errors—I think that kind of stuff is very, very important for the public because then they have a sense that when you get something wrong, you’re going to hold yourself accountable and you’re going to try to hold each other accountable, and that allows them, I think, to feel more confident in what you do say and what ends up staying up.

But I’m game for ideas about other things as well that we could be doing. Like, I don’t know how to do this.

RENEE DIRESTA: For those of us who study the dynamics of these systems, I think it’s imperative for us to also understand impact, right, and to understand also what are the policy, education, and design levers that we have at our disposal to mitigate some of the harms as we’ve seen them play out over the last year and a half.

One of the things that I’ve been struck by is the difference in time horizon, right. So for you, this process of discovery, this process of understanding, of scientific consensuses happening, per your point, this is a novel virus. It’s not like measles where you can point to it and say, this is what we’ve known from decades of experience and, you know, of research of the very old and established vaccines at this point.

So you have this challenge of coming to consensus in full public view at an age in which the slower pace of that discovery conflicts with the speed of information that people expect on the internet. You know, I expect when I open my Twitter feed that something new is going to be at the top of it and, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, everyone was refreshing constantly, trying to find out what was happening. What did we know now? Did hydroxychloroquine work? You know, what were the latest findings?

I’m curious how you think about that process of communicating consensus over time. How do you think, perhaps, if you were to do it again today, messaging on masks, for example, might have been? How would you do it again today if you were—if you were confronted with this situation?

ASHISH JHA: Yeah. That’s a really good question and there are kind of—in my mind, there are two or three kind of complex points. So let me see if I can just sort of make each of them and then, hopefully, across all three I’ll end up answering your question.

One is to express uncertainty more clearly. I think one of the places where we got the mask stuff really wrong last March was I think a lot of people in public health expressed a much higher degree of certainty that masks weren’t going to work than we had. And you can ask the question why. Why did people do that? And that’s because we had a mental model that basically was a mental model coming out of the original SARS outbreak of 2003, and with that coronavirus you really didn’t need to wear a mask if you were asymptomatic because you only spread the disease when you had symptoms. Asymptomatic [spread] wasn’t really much of a thing with the original SARS virus, so we all just assumed that that’s how this one was going to play out too. Bad assumption. Turned out to be very, very wrong. I think we should have been much more humble about saying this is our mental model, here’s what we think, we don’t know, and right now we don’t think wearing a mask is important. But like putting those caveats in I think would have been helpful, and there was way too much certainty.

And there is a problem here of groupthink that can happen because, you know, I always find, for instance, that I will read the literature, and then if I see Tony Fauci say something, I am going to have a very high bar for contradicting. Like, I’m going to think, like, a lot about [whether] Tony is really wrong on this. And I feel like we all do that, but that’s good because then you don’t get this massive divergence. But on the other hand, it’s bad because if one person—and I’m not saying Tony—but, like, anybody who’s got a loud voice makes a mistake, a lot of us end up following that. So I think we have to figure out how to be more careful about that.

I do think, by the way, on the issue of consensus forming, it’s really interesting that, you know, the information and knowledge is moving so incredibly quicky and there are areas where we have developed consensus very quickly. So, for instance, let’s talk about the Delta variant, which many of you probably have heard about—it’s spreading in America; it’s bad. It is actually kind of bad. We do have pretty good consensus that if you’re fully vaccinated you’re pretty protected. But everybody’s been asking me about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and will it hold up. And you know, it’s been like a week and we don’t know. And people are like, it’s been a week, how do we not know? And I’m like, people, this would have taken five years to study. I’m actually confident we’ll know in the next five weeks. But we’ve got to help people understand that science on this stuff, as insane fast as we’re moving, you know, just can’t go that much faster without getting a lot more stuff wrong. But it is interesting because, like, I am constantly bombarded with, it’s been days since you updated us on this one important scientific fact. And I’m like, it’s true. So the expectations of how quickly science will evolve I think also need a little reset.

RENEE DIRESTA: Yeah, I think that that’s kind of common, actually, to most crisis scenarios on the internet as we see them also. Any high-profile crime also kind of suffers from this proliferation of rumors and misinformation as we try to make sense of what’s happened and figure it out.

Where do you see the impact of misinformation to COVID? One of the things that has been challenging for us, I think, as misinformation researchers is we can process engagements, right? We can tell you, as with something like “Plandemic,” how viral it went, what communities it wound up, and we can’t really make that final connection to how impactful it was because oftentimes one of the best measures of that is what people say—in the case of health misinformation, what people actually ask their doctor. You know, did they internalize this thing that they saw on the internet or did it just go by? And I’m curious, in your opinion, how you’ve seen impact from the narratives on social media in the real world in medical practices and public-health responses and elsewhere.

ASHISH JHA: Yeah. I think the impact is pretty sizeable and it’s, I think, quantifiable.

So, for instance, you know, we’ve had vaccines available for every American, everybody over age eighteen certainly, for a couple of months now, and we saw about a third of adults who have chosen not to be vaccinated. My sense is a large chunk of that is because of misinformation about the vaccines, how safe they are, how big a deal is it that the FDA has not given full approval. There’s a whole bunch of narratives out there about how these vaccines are experimental that people propagate. And the effect is that you have a lot of people who are not vaccinated, and the effect is, therefore, that we’re still having people get infected, ten to fifteen thousand a day, still having a couple hundred people die every day. That, to me, is all preventable and it’s almost all driven by misinformation, right? So that’s pretty quantifiable.

Certainly, the fact that Americans ended up having 600,000 deaths, some of that was clearly just poor response in the early days. But a lot of it, going into the fall and winter, was the misinformation that has caused a real splitting in parts of America about how big a deal this virus is. You know, it’s not like people wake up one morning and come to a different conclusion based on the same scientific facts and data. It’s because there’s been this bombardment of misinformation that has gone on in many communities and in many kinds of information ecosystems that has led to not enough mask wearing, not enough vaccines, like all that stuff. So, in my mind, it’s pretty clear that that misinformation has had very, very specific effects.

And the last point I’ll make on this is, you know, you can have all the policies you want, right—you can have President Biden come out and say everybody should wear a mask, that you should get vaccinated—but at the end of the day public health is, yes, a little bit about policy, but it’s a lot about public action. And public action is motivated by public beliefs, and public beliefs are clearly shaped by the information ecosystems that people live in. And as I started with, I think the people in the public-health community largely missed this, and we have to do very, very differently not only for the rest of this pandemic but for future health crises.

RENEE DIRESTA: I like that framing of public action shaped by public beliefs and the beliefs being impacted significantly by the information environments that we operate in.

I’m curious, given that we are operating in these information environments, do you have any steps that you would recommend platforms or public-health communicators or anyone take to help inoculate the public against future infodemics? Is there anything drawing on, again, kind of a similar question to the consensus one, but how might we do better the next time in terms of communication to the public and public inoculation?

ASHISH JHA: Yeah. It’s a really good question, and I have just sort of recently in some ways started thinking about this. As I said and I kind of admitted a year-and-a-half ago, I spent very little time thinking about these issues. I really had a mental model that said, you know, if there is a new pandemic, we use science, we figure out what the right answers are, and then we share it with people, and people will act, and it’ll be fine. I realize that sounds insanely naïve and I apologize, but you know, I’ve learned in the last eighteen months that that’s not the world we live in. And I realize many of you have known longer than eighteen months that that’s not the world we live in.

When I think about what needs to be done to inoculate against future ones, I think about this kind of in a classic public-health way of, like, there’s a set of responsibilities that all of us have. So there are a set of responsibilities individuals have—and I talk about this a lot with my physician colleagues, with my public-health colleagues—about the importance of spreading good information and the importance of countering misinformation when it makes sense to do so. Doesn’t mean that every single response on Twitter needs to have a response to it—and actually, most of the times you should probably not engage—but that when people inadvertently spread misinformation, I sort of—at least in my mental model I think of it as like if you’re walking through the woods, if you see trash, you want to pick it up, and you want to plant more seeds so that in the future there will be more trees. And so one is definitely a set of individual responsibilities.

And the only other thing I’ll say on the individual side is because people live in such different information ecosystems, one of the things I’ve been sort of talking to my colleagues about is trying to get out of our own bubbles and trying to spend more time talking to people and engaging with people who are not part of our ecosystem. So, for instance, on a personal level, you know, I do a reasonable amount of television media. One of the things I said to my team about, like, who to say yes to and no to is I always say yes to Newsmax and always say yes to Fox News because in general the people I communicate with tend to not watch those channels, when I’m communicating on Twitter or other means, right? So it’s getting out of your bubble and trying to talk to people who—these are good people; they just live in a different information ecosystem. So breaking out of your own, I think, is really important.

Two more quick things on this. One is I think there’s a set of things that academics need to do—academia needs to do. I think academia needs to treat this like any other complex problem. We need to do the work of, you know, really studying what’s going on, what are the drivers of misinformation, a lot of work that’s already happening and stuff that’s happening at Stanford, happening elsewhere.

And then, obviously, there’s a set of responsibilities that platforms have and policymakers have. And you know, what’s been interesting in this pandemic is, again, by May/June when I think, like, I was starting to come to realize what was going on, and I started talking publicly about it and the role of Twitter and Facebook and Google, what was interesting to me was some of these platforms—in a couple public places I kind of called out these guys for not doing enough, and I found some of the platforms very responsive. Their leadership actually reached out and said we want to do more and we want to do better; how do we do that? And others who basically were like, yeah, no, this is not our responsibility. We’re just a platform. Like, we’re not responsible for, like content. And I thought that that splitting between the different platforms was really, really interesting.

Last point, you know, everybody sort of talks about what is the role of regulation, and I’m struck by the fact that, like, it seems to me that we will end up needing to regulate this. We can’t have a mental model of you regulate it or you don’t regulate it. It takes a while to figure out what is the right regulatory mechanism, how do we do this in a way that doesn’t stifle free speech, that doesn’t give government too much power. But what are the guardrails that we, as a society, are willing to live with?

I’m worried that, like, the conversation has become too black or white about, like, yes regulate, no regulate. It’s really about what is the kind of thing that we want to do to try to clean this up a little bit without letting it become overly onerous and really stifling the ability of people to have free exchange of ideas.

RENEE DIRESTA: I particularly appreciated the one about engaging with the media outside the beltway. That’s very, very important. I think it doesn’t do very much good to kind of consistently be speaking to people who are already vaccinated, who already believe that masks work and are taking appropriate steps. So I appreciate your efforts on that front as a communicator.

We have a couple questions from the audience, so I’ll ask one now. The question is: How can public-health officials strike the balance between certainty and uncertainty without losing credibility, particularly when going against disinformants that often offer narratives that may feel more certain because they are simplistic and offer quick, easy, or entertaining answers?

ASHISH JHA: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I think my personal approach, and I think what the people that I admire, what they do, is to be honest about the level of uncertainty you have. But—here’s the kind of key part, right—like, where academics fall into a trap is they feel like unless they’re 100 percent sure they can’t say anything. And that’s just wrong. (Laughs.) And in a pandemic, you’re not going to be 100 percent sure about very many things for a very long time. And you leave too big a vacuum.

So, for instance, I think back to when the vaccines started first coming out and the data on vaccines started coming out. And the question that kept coming up is, OK, so these vaccines seem to protect people but do they reduce transmission? If you’re vaccinated are you less likely to spread it? The short answer was, we weren’t sure. But the slightly longer answer was they probably did. Like, it just would make sense if you understood how vaccines work and how these vaccines work.

And you had a whole lot of public-health people coming out and saying: We have no idea. And that got translated into: No, the vaccines don’t stop transmission. And that, I think, ended up causing a lot of harm because then, of course, misinformationists, like, then used that and said, well, these vaccines don’t even stop transmission. Why would you get vaccinated if you’re low risk? And I think it’s part of the reason why many young people continue not to be vaccinated.

One of the things that I, and I think several of us, tried to do was say: We don’t know for sure, but this is where we think the data’s almost surely going to end up. And my assumption is this, right? Like, give people a sense of where it’s heading even if you aren’t certain. I think people are not looking for certainty. They’re looking for judgement and weight, and your best assessment of the situation. It’s how you practice medicine, right? Like, when I see a patient with a disease, I often don’t know for sure what they have, but I have a pretty good guess, I have an assessment, I tell them how I’m going to figure it out. And people are willing to cut you slack. And that’s about communicating uncertainty, but not to the point where it seems like you have no idea what’s going on at all.

RENEE DIRESTA: One of the things that I think has been interesting with platforms in particular is they’ve been trying to fact check things rather reactively, which leads to something when something is found to be counter to the initial assessment of the fact checker, has then led to subsequent opportunities to erode confidence in the fact-checker, the speaker, the media. And so it really has turned into a disinformation campaign itself in the sense of just a campaign to systematically erode trust in any sort of authority, whether that be media, institutional, health, fact checking. So I think that that transparent communication model is quite critical.

We have—here’s a fantastic question: Are we better or worse off than we were after 1918?

ASHISH JHA: Oh, I think way better off. Way better off. So let me make the case. I mean, obviously in some ways we’re quite—there are things that are much worse, right, in the way misinformation and disinformation has spread. But these communication tools have also been incredibly powerful in two ways. I mean, one, as a way to communicate to the broad public. I think that a lot of people in the public who didn’t know what was going on—I mean, in some ways none of us knew exactly was going on last February and March. But there was a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty. And I think there were a lot of public-health voices that were able to step in and help people through this pandemic. These platforms were incredibly powerful for that.

The second way is ways in which scientists are able to communicate with each other using these platforms. That ends up actually being really, really useful as well. There’s a whole group of public-health scientists that—somebody posts something that I don’t know I totally agree with, sometimes publicly but sometimes through direct messaging or other ways, I’ll reach out and I’m like, I’m not sure I buy that. And then we can have an exchange. And that just wouldn’t have happened if these social media platforms didn’t exist. You know, I would have read a paper, maybe I would have written them a letter.

Like, no, it’s just I read a tweet and I think that’s wrong. But this is a really smart, knowledgeable person. I wonder why they think that. Let me clarify. And sometimes it turns out they got it wrong. Sometimes it turns out that my mental model is wrong. And that’s really helpful in driving conversations forward in a very productive way. That stuff has all been a major reason why we’ve made as much progress as we have. So, you know, do I wish we didn’t have some of the problems of the—absolutely. But would I wish that we were in 1918 land? Absolutely not.

RENEE DIRESTA: So, net on net, you think on balance social media has been a positive during the pandemic, then?

ASHISH JHA: I do. I do. I’m not sure everybody in public health agrees with that, by the way. (Laughs.) But I do.

RENEE DIRESTA: Per your point, I remember I was looking at letters to the editor of the British Medical Journal for the project I was doing. And there was, you know, the anti-vaxxer in the comments in the form of the letters to the editor, you know? And there was just these very recurring things, actually. And I think the last question in the kind of three and a half minutes we have left is: What are the narratives that you expect will outlast this period? So of the themes that we’ve seen emerge, you know, what do you think the impact of the COVID-19 infodemic will be on public health, you know, one year out or five years out?

ASHISH JHA: Boy, that’s a really hard question. And first let me take thirty seconds to say why it’s a particularly hard question. One of the things that happens with pandemics, if you’ve studied the history of pandemics, is that they have profound effects on society forever. If you look at the 1918 flu pandemic, which we often talk about, you know, if has this very, very big effect—not just on society, but obviously on public health. And it’s not clear to me that if we were standing together in 1918 or 19—let’s say as the flu pandemic was coming to an end, that we could have predicted all of that. So there will be a lot of changes that I think are hard to predict.

I do think the deeply globalized nature of pandemics is something that is really seeping into people’s minds, and the idea that somehow you can protect yourself, or your country, or your neighborhood while ignoring everybody else—I think that really gets blown up. And I think understanding that we need much more global coordination and global action is a narrative that I think will come out, and already, I think, has.

I believe that this is going to really restore—boy, I was about to say something and then I stopped myself. But I’ll say what I was going to say and then you guys can agree or disagree. What I was going to say is I think this restores people’s faith in science. And even as I’m speaking there are probably people who are like, no it doesn’t. But, you know, like, we basically got bailed out of a horrible pandemic by the insanely effective scientific community that came up with vaccines in very, very short order. And they turned out to be better than I expected it to be. And so, I don’t know, part of me thinks that this kind of global cooperation around in the scientific community to solve big problems, hopefully, is something that people realize.

And of course, I think most people probably couldn’t explain what public health was five years ago. I think people have a much, much better sense of it now. And one of the narratives is that we’re going to have to make investments in it and take care of it, just the way we do national defense, the way we think about the environment, about things that really have collective impact, large-scale impact, and are not just about individual choices.

RENEE DIRESTA: Well, I appreciate the thought-provoking and provocative responses. I tend to agree, actually. I think that ultimately this is also precipitating really material changes in how platforms think about harms, how inter-disciplinary research teams have come together to think about how information spreads, the ways in which we think about the restoration and building of trust. I think that there’s a lot of really foundational societal questions that this pandemic has prompted deep thought on.

So I’d like to thank you for chatting with me today. I think we are out of time. And I’m going to turn it back over to Graham to lead us into the next session.

ASHISH JHA: Thank you.

Watch the full event