Seminar Series

| University of Maryland

| 22/11/2021 h.17.00

Host, parasite, and failure at the colony level: COVID-19 and the US information ecosystem

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This conceptual analysis uses host-parasite interactions in nonhuman species to frame the poor US response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in the context of information ecosystems. The co-evolutionary interaction between host and parasite results in changes to hosts that are achieved through genetic evolution but involve collective information sharing and behavioral adaptation at the colony level. Common examples are described among ants, bees, and other insects. The US defenses against SARS-CoV-2 were weakened by malformations in the information ecosystem that disrupted the dissemination of information while spreading misinformation and disinformation. Distortions arising from political corruption, and magnified by social media platforms, were especially consequential. However, the crisis may have contributed to innovation and reform in the information ecosystem, especially in science communication. Despite poor pandemic response, then, these developments may contribute to a more egalitarian and democratic system for the production and dissemination of knowledge, with long-term benefits to public health.


Philip N. Cohen is an American sociologist. He is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and director of SocArXiv, an open archive of the social sciences. He works in the areas of families and inequality, social demography, and social inequality. His concerns include gender and race/ethnic segregation in occupations, gender and authority, unpaid housework and care work, health disparities, and demographic measurement. He is a former member of the American Sociological Association (ASA) Committee on Publications, and chair of the ASA's section on Sociology of the Family. He also is an Associate of the Maryland Population Research Center, and was formerly secretary-treasurer of the ASA Population Section. He was co-editor, with Syed Ali, of Contexts, the quarterly magazine of the ASA, from 2014 to 2017.