Cornell Atkinson awards five more COVID-19 rapid grants

By: Blaine Friedlander,  Cornell Chronicle
Mon, 05/11/2020

The proliferation of medical misinformation on social media and the human experience of social distancing are among the pandemic-related topics to be studied with Rapid Response Fund grants from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Since requesting emergency seed-grant proposals in early April, Cornell Atkinson has announced a total of seven Rapid Response Fund grants, including five since the start of May.

Also among the newest faculty projects to be funded are studies of the role of food banks during the pandemic; behavior responses to risk; and measuring the pandemic’s economic and environmental impact.

Sarah Kreps, professor of government, and Doug Kriner, the Clinton Rossiter Professor in American Institutions, both in the College of Arts and Sciences, will examine the proliferation of online medical misinformation since the outbreak of COVID-19, which ranges from touting fake cures to disease-source conspiracies.

“In previous public health crises – such as SARS, MERS or Ebola – the global reach was more limited,” Kreps said. “In this case, access to the internet is ubiquitous and coronavirus has dominated social media since the early days of the outbreak, leading to an exponential growth of searches – but also misinformation.”

The professors will measure the spread and consumer uptake of misinformation, assess the perceived credibility across types of medical misinformation, evaluate tools for combatting it and explore the politicization of scientific modeling.

“As far as we are aware,” Kriner said, “no prior study has directly measured public uptake of misinformation relating to COVID-19.”

David Just, the Susan Eckert Lynch Professor of Science and Business in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, will study the pursuit for food assistance during a pandemic, using internet-based search behavior. Anne Byrne, a doctoral student in applied economics and management, will join Just in the research.

Since COVID-19 hit the United States, a natural concern has been the role of food banks and their ability to meet rising demand in this climate, Just said. Data from 2014 suggests that more than 46 million Americans used these services.

“Food banks play a critical role in bridging the food security gap and helping food-insecure households,” Just said.

John Zinda, assistant professor of global development, and Lindy Williams, professor of global development, both in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will study how perceptions of flood and pandemic risks are related to one another and to behavioral responses. The researchers will deploy a questionnaire on responses to flood and COVID-19 risk in upstate New York municipalities that historically experience flooding – and face increasing risk due to climate change.

David Kay and Robin Blakely-Armitage, senior extension associates for the Community and Regional Development Institute and Cornell Atkinson fellows, will join in this project, which is co-funded with the Cornell Center for Social Sciences.

Qi Wang, professor and chair of human development in the College of Human Ecology, will lead a research team examining individual and cultural factors influencing the subjective experience of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic and its relation to psychological well-being.

Participants with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds will record twice a week their experiences related to social distancing for a period of time. Their personality, cultural orientation and well-being will be assessed at the beginning and end of the study, and then again in a year.

Human development researcher Tong Suo and graduate students Li Guan and Yuchen Tian will join the study.

Panle Jia Barwick, associate professor of economics (A&S); and Shanjun Li, the Kenneth L. Robinson Professor of Applied Economics and Public Policy (Dyson), will use real-time, high-resolution data to measure the economic and environmental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Li and Barwick are the co-directors of the Cornell Institute for China Economic Research. Cornell Atkinson and the Cornell Center for Social Sciences will jointly fund this project.

The research will examine economic activities and air quality before and after COVID-19 closed down the economies in the U.S. and China, using high-resolution and high frequency data from economic transactions, remote sensing and website traffic. Further, they will examine large datasets provided by corporate firms in order to quantify the effects of unemployment, bankruptcies and output to inform current policy debates.

Cornell Atkinson Rapid Response Fund proposals are being accepted through June 30.

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.


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