I have written quite a bit on misinformation during the current Covid-19 pandemic, building on my expertise as a sociologist of science and technology. However, so far, I have always looked at the issue from the perspective of experts competing with misleading and often dangerous messages about the virus that are being shared by non-experts.

Lately, however, I have been thinking about a different category of misinformation altogether. Like many involved in Covid-19 work, I follow daily reports from multiple national governments on their specific responses, policies and plans. I also take in a broad range of respected media channels…

There is an upsurge of misinformation online connected with the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO calls this out as an infodemic and warns about negative consequences for society, exacerbating the pandemic itself.

I have been studying online communities spreading such “alternative” information and competing with established experts for the past 10 years, in parallel to my work at Wellcome. This is the third in my series of blog posts about this topic. The first dealt with how misinformation spreaders become so effective online. The second looked at the tactic of putting up an alt-expert to undermine the messages of established experts.

This…

The COVID-19 epidemic looks set to challenge the global order in unprecedented ways. It is not just a public health issue, as pointed out by Wellcome’s Director, Jeremy Farrar, it is an economic and political one, and it is happening against a background of a general undermining of trust in national and international institutions.

As the virus spreads across the world, it is accompanied by its shadow, the viral spread of fear and misinformation. Even if — we can all hope — COVID-19 itself does not end up anywhere near as harmful as some of the worst-case scenarios, the shadow…

Experts fighting the coronavirus COVID19 epidemic are increasingly concerned not only about the virus itself, but also by the spread of misinformation about this virus online. The potential side-effects of such misinformation can be very serious: mistrust of authority, discrimination against minorities, fear and panic. This can be seen in two incidents from the opposite sides of the world: protesters attacking a bus of evacuees in Ukraine because of an unfounded rumour of infection among them, and racist flyers stigmatising the Asian community given out in California.

For me this hits home for a number of reasons, some of them…

This article is perhaps a bit incongruous with everything I have written before. It is not about AI or data science or responsible tech, but it does touch directly on why my job and my team exist in Wellcome: to help improve health around the world using all the tools at our disposal. It is just that this time the right tool is a bit of ethnography, not an algorithm.

We are all aware of the serious situation playing out in Wuhan, a city in the heart of China that has been stricken by the coronavirus epidemic. Wellcome’s best scientific…

Following scandals like Facebook’s links with Cambridge Analytica, it is simply no longer legitimate for the makers of technology to think that worrying about negative consequences of their product or tool is not their job. Or that the best strategy is to fix issues after the product is launched. To change behaviour, we need to confront the role addiction to technology plays in the decision making of the engineers and designers themselves.

The world of technology is about to undergo another revolution. The famous Facebook motto “move fast and break things” will be challenged. When two players in the industry…

Leaving academia isn’t the same as leaving research, which is why we need to reimagine what a successful research career looks like.

Around 70% of researchers leave academia after completing their PhD, according to analysis presented by Dr Sally Hancock at the launch of the Research on Research Institute (RoRI). That’s a big number and it’s a stark reminder that a PhD is no longer a guarantee of a lifelong academic career.

Image for post
Image for post
Credit: Wellcome

The first reaction might be to see this as unalloyed bad news. Indeed, in many cases, hidden behind the numbers are truly sad stories of individuals who, despite…

This article is part of a series from my team, Wellcome Data Labs, on our work to create and operationalise a new ethical and social science methodology for technology product development and responsible artificial intelligence (AI). It is written in a slightly experimental way. The first part is an extended metaphor I was struck by after a stimulating two weeks talking about science and technology with a slew of interesting people in San Francisco and Seattle. I thought writing it this way might be a good way of jolting both myself as a writer and my readers from the usual…

Artificial Intelligence is transforming our world, sometimes in ways that its creators did not intend, as I discussed in a previous post about AI and issues such as bias. In this blog post I discuss a new method of applying approaches from the social sciences to the way AI algorithms are produced to solve data science problems. The goal is to avoid potential negative consequences of the algorithms by identifying them earlier in the development process.

There have been attempts to set out such a way of working already. An example is Catalina Butnaru’s excellent post proposing a new Agile…

In my first post, I talked about bias in algorithms. This is a significant issue in a society rapidly transformed by AI. As my colleague Nicola Perrin and I argued in an opinion piece for the Guardian newspaper in the UK, one of the biggest potential problems would be if the public were so spooked by the constant drip drip of negative stories about unintended negative consequences of AI that its huge untapped potential for good, particularly in healthcare, would never be realised. So, what can be done?

Social sciences have the right methodological tools to analyse potential impacts of…

Danil Mikhailov

Anthropologist & tech. ED of data.org. Trustee at 360Giving. Formerly Head of Wellcome Data Labs. Championing ethical tech & data science for social impact.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store