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COVID-19 experts available: Misinformation, poverty, fact-checking

April 28, 2020

MADISON – Numerous experts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison are available to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and provide tips and information to help people navigate the challenges to their daily lives.

More experts can be found on the Experts page and in these tipsheets from April 14, April 3, March 27, March 23, March 17 and March 12.


COVID-19 is a “new” type of crisis for science. Much of the scientific facts about the virus and the likely effectiveness of vaccines or therapies emerges in real time as the crisis spreads. Dietram Scheufele, Taylor-Bascom Professor of Science Communication in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, can answer questions related to information, misinformation and public understanding of the COVID-19 crisis, such as: How can we all make sense of the deluge of information and misinformation that’s coming our way? What can journalists and scientists do to better communicate about coronavirus and about societal debates emerging in its wake? And how can societies reasonably weigh difficult options, including logistics for reopening the economy or tracking private cell phones to monitor infections?

In 2017, Scheufele vice-chaired a committee for the National Academies that summarized what is known about how to best communicate science during times of crisis. He notes that the conclusions from that report (available at, and from science communication research more broadly, are crucially important as we try to find ways out of a crisis that is a complicated amalgam of biology, public health, and social science.

“Not only is there a lot the scientific community does not yet know about COVID-19, but much of what it thinks it knows—what it now considers “accurate”—could turn out to be wrong,” says Scheufele. “When today’s facts can easily become tomorrow’s fictions, it is difficult to even define ‘misinformation,’ much less to ‘correct’ it. So it’s important to explore what strategies can we use to effectively sift through all the (mis)information coming our way? And what can we do to make sure we rely on the best evidence when we decide whether to wear masks or to get takeout from our local restaurant?”

Contact:, (608) 262-1614, Twitter: @scheufele, LinkedIn: 


Michael Wagner, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, studies media, American politics, polarization, political communication, political behavior, public opinion and religion. Wagner can discuss the role of fact-checking in the media, who is most likely to learn from COVID-19 fact-checking, and which people are most vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

Wagner says, “The most important thing is for people to admit what they don’t know. When people guess about a fact, they are less likely to learn from a fact check as compared to those who just admit it if they don’t know the answer to something. The hardest people to persuade are those who are not only wrong, but very confident in their opinion.”

Contact: Twitter: @prowag


Sarah Halpern-Meekin, an expert on poverty and social and welfare policy, can talk about the impact the coronavirus epidemic is having on people struggling with poverty and economic stability. She can discuss:

  • How low-income families try to make ends meet
  • How low-income families and individuals get assistance from public benefit programs (and when they don’t)
  • Ways in which people struggle with loneliness and social isolation, especially among young adults and low-income parents
  • Before the pandemic, there was a growing population of prime-age men who were out of the labor force. What happens to them now, and what can we learn from this group that might hint at what’s to come for others who find themselves out of the labor force now?
  • How people deal with parenting and trying to make romantic relationships work under stressful conditions

“The pandemic is shining a bright spotlight on fundamental issues that so many individuals and families struggle with during “normal” times: trying to make ends meet, not being able to rely on assistance programs to pull them through tough situations, parenting and trying to make romantic relationships work under stressful conditions, and dealing with loneliness and social isolation.”


Tags: media tips