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Brian Southwell

Brian G. Southwell

Lead Scientist for Public Understanding of Science


PhD, Communication, University of Pennsylvania
MA, Communication, University of Pennsylvania
BA, Rhetoric and Communication Studies/Government, University of Virginia


Dr. Brian Southwell is Lead Scientist for Public Understanding of Science at RTI International. He is a social scientist who oversees quantitative and qualitative research to assess risk perceptions, mental models of scientific concepts, and public trust in science and scientists. Dr. Southwell also is an active participant in efforts to address public understanding of science through peer-reviewed publications as well as public commentary, talks in venues such as the Aspen Ideas Festival, advising for projects such as NOVA Science Studio, and a consensus study for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Dr. Southwell has applied his background in communication and human behavior to a variety of dilemmas including emerging infectious diseases and trust in science. He has written and edited numerous award-winning journal articles and books on topics such as popular perceptions of health, behaviors related to climate change and environmental conservation, and misinformation as a threat to society.

Dr. Southwell is also an adjunct professor of Internal Medicine with Duke University, where he co-founded the Duke Program on Medical Misinformation and is a faculty affiliate with the Duke Initiative for Science and Society. In addition, he has served the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 2011; he currently is an adjunct associate professor with UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health. Dr. Southwell is an adjunct faculty member and contributor to an online graduate program with the University of Delaware as well.

He served almost a decade at the University of Minnesota prior to these appointments, most recently as a tenured associate professor and director of graduate studies in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and has worked for a variety of nonprofit and government organizations.

In 2015, Dr. Southwell created a public radio show for WNCU-FM, “The Measure of Everyday Life,” which he hosts. The show airs weekly on WNCU and focuses on the intersections between social science and public discourse.

Dr. Southwell's award-winning research and theoretical contributions appear in more than 100 journal articles and chapters. In 2013, he published the book Social Networks and Popular Understanding of Science and Health. He has served as senior editor for Health Communication and as a member of numerous other editorial boards, including Communication Research and Public Opinion Quarterly. He published the edited book Innovations in Home Energy Use: A Sourcebook for Behavior Change in 2016. In 2018, he coedited Misinformation and Mass Audiences, published by the University of Texas Press. Dr. Southwell's latest book, from RTI Press, is Measuring Everyday Life: Talking About Research and Why It Matters, curated from interviews featured on the public radio show.

Learn more about Brian Southwell

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