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Societal Trust and Health amidst COVID-19, and an Evaluation Framework for the Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN)

National Science Foundation

Liz Suhay (PI); Dave Marcotte (co-PI); Claudia Persico (Investigator); Aparna Soni (Investigator)

COVID-19 represents a grave threat to America’s public health and the well-being of its populace. U.S. government actors and the lay public have directed considerable time and resources to grappling with the crisis. Yet, the U.S. effort to fight the virus’s spread has been less successful than that of other nations, likely due to the federal government’s lack of action after the virus’s arrival in the U.S. as well as its continuing reluctance to implement and coordinate a nationwide response to the pandemic. This project responds to this state of affairs by pursuing two goals in conjunction with the new NAS/SEAN (Societal Experts Action Network) effort.


Task 1 of the proposed project will analyze survey data gathered by SEAN to understand the critical role that trust in authorities (medical, scientific, government, media) plays in health and political behavior. Without clear, consistent, and strictly enforced guidelines for reducing community spread of the disease, individual Americans have been largely left to make their own decisions regarding whether to social distance, wear a mask in public, etc. We argue that who is trusted by members of the public to inform them about COVID-19 plays a large role in their behavioral response to the disease and, ultimately, their health outcomes. In addition, given the threat the current crisis poses to ordinary Americans’ health and finances, we argue that which government officials and political candidates people trust to protect their well-being going forward will play an outsized role in their political decisions.

Task 2 of the proposed project includes an assessment of SEAN’s operation in its first few months. SEAN has emerged as a unique effort to improve communication between the scientific and policymaking communities by coordinating among both communities to answer urgent policy relevant scientific questions. Our research team will work with SEAN to identify objectives and then evaluate whether their strategies of implementation are likely to achieve those goals.

Evidence-Based Science Communication with Policymakers

National Academy of Sciences / Rita Allen Foundation

​Liz Suhay (PI); Emily Cloyd (co-PI); Erin Heath (co-PI); Erin Nash (Research Associate)


Communication scholars have responded to the increasing politicization of important science topics admirably, tackling the study of "the science of science communication" with great energy and rigor. Yet, despite this, few have systematically studied the practice of science communication aimed at policymakers specifically.

Our team surveyed relevant literature, conducted interviews with Members of Congress and staff, and conducted a survey of scientists to better understand the actual and ideal practice of science communication with policymakers.

Project products include several working papers and a recommended practices booklet (see below) for experts interested in increasing the likelihood that the information and advice they provide make their way into the policymaking process.

The Politics of Genetic Explanations for Social Inequality

Russell Sage Foundation

Liz Suhay (PI)

This project examines the linkages between Americans’ political attitudes and their beliefs about the causes of (1) economic inequality and (2) inequality within the criminal justice system. I examine explanations for both interindividual and intergroup inequalities. Two surveys of the public have been completed (2016, 2018). This study will culminate in a book manuscript.

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