In July 2019, Meedan welcomed a new member of our growing team. Dr. Scott A. Hale has joined Meedan as our new Director of Research. He is retaining his academic affiliations and will be splitting time between Meedan and his university.
Scott’s work with Meedan is focused on enhancing and streamlining all of Meedan’s research-based work, from data annotation work for Credibility Coalition to research on health misinformation for our new Digital Health Lab. To help you get to know our newest member, we asked him a few questions. Below is a short Q&A with our new Director of Research. Welcome Scott!
Q: What does Research at Meedan mean to you currently?
A: Meedan already does a lot of great work that involves research and research decisions on the product and the tech side. What I’m hoping to do is get that research to a point where others can learn from it, and use it to steer a wider conversations in policy spaces and academia, about some of the really important topics that Meedan is working on.
Q: Why is building out a more robust research platform important right now?
A: One of the really key points about what we hope to accomplish at Meedan is this idea of enabling research. This comes at an important time when we’re thinking about where academia is at, and we’re helping advance the conversations happening in academia. So much of the data we rely on in academia is becoming harder and harder to access. Companies are clawing back API access, for privacy and other reasons; so, there are a lot of highly skilled people who want to do research but just can’t get access to those datasets. For that reason, Meedan is in a good position to be able to open up some of its data for research. And we’re working out how to do this in a way that respects people’s privacy as well as our legal obligations.
Q: What’s a project you’re excited about right now?
A: Before joining full-time, my role at Meedan was as a collaborator for some time. I’ve been apart of the Digital Health Lab from its early stages, and I’m excited because it takes this conversation on mis- and disinformation on politics, where ‘truth’ is often debated, and focuses it on health where scientific consensus is often clearer.
In health there really are commonly accepted, scientifically validated conclusions; around health conditions and interventions, and there’s misinformation circulating about that science, which can have a real impact on our public health and epidemics. So I think there is a real opportunity in the health misinformation space to dig into an area that is less politicized, and where there is a clearer ground truth or consensus.
Q: Where do you see the research vertical going in the next three years?
A: I see the key goal of Meedan’s research as widening access to quality information. We really want to get to a point where we understand concerns around information and information access across locations, languages, and different socioeconomic statuses. We are seeking to move toward understanding this better.
We focus a lot on understanding mis-and disinformation, and the flip side that is just as important — understanding the opposite: high quality sources, and how we increase people’s abilities to find high quality content online. That’s the big picture goal. We’ll hopefully be a real change agent in making that happen by working with others in research, with technology platforms, policymakers, and NGOs.
Q: What do you mean by information equality?
A: Going back many years my academic research has often included a focus on what language boundaries look like online. The information that’s available in different languages can be very different. As English speakers we don’t always realize the limits of our language, but for other language speakers where there is a smaller user base to generate the content and reduced economic incentive to generate content it’s more evident to speakers of those languages that there are barriers present in their languages online.
If I’m trying to make a health decision for myself and I’m searching in Language 1 as opposed to Language 2, what information am I going to have, and how does it differ? Ideally there shouldn’t be a difference, I should find the highest quality content online no matter what language I speak. And not just across languages but also across education and literacy levels. Ideally the keywords I use to find information on a topic should always lead me to high quality content and unfortunately that’s not always the case. To the extent that it correlates to socioeconomic status, or other variables, we may have specific groups of people who are systematically being suggested lower quality content.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I have too many interests! That’s always the problem, but I enjoy running (especially when visiting family in Okinawa, Japan) and also scuba diving.