Dr. Brian Southwell is Senior Director of the Science in the Public Sphere Program in the Center for Communication 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. 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, and advising for projects such as NOVA Science Studio.
Southwell has applied his background in communication and human behavior to a variety of dilemmas including public understanding of emerging infectious diseases and trust in science. In an effort to examine public attitudes and perceptions concerning the Zika virus, for example, he led a study in Guatemala to understand mental models of Zika virus disease. More recently, Southwell has written about public perceptions related to COVID-19.
Southwell is also an adjunct professor with Duke University, where he is affiliated with the interdisciplinary Social Science Research Institute and has served as a Duke-RTI Scholar. 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 and advises graduate students in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
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, 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.