Brian G. Southwell

Program Director, Science in the Public Sphere


  • PhD, Communication, University of Pennsylvania
  • MA, Communication, University of Pennsylvania
  • BA, Rhetoric and Communication Studies/Government, University of Virginia
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Brian Southwell, PhD, is an expert in communication and human behavior and a senior research scientist in the Center for Communication Science at RTI. His large-scale evaluation work has spanned behaviors and audiences, including cancer prevention and screening promotion efforts, national campaigns to discourage drug and tobacco use, efforts to bolster television news coverage of science, and various state-level campaigns. He also has studied public understanding of energy and related topics, as well as social networks and popular understandings of health.

Southwell's extensive background in communication and human behavior allowed him to play a leading role in our Zika virus initiatives. In an effort to examine public attitudes and perceptions concerning the virus, for example, he led a study in Guatemala to understand how the public views the Zika virus and explore how to prevent transmission.

Southwell is also an adjunct professor with Duke University, where he is affiliated with the interdisciplinary Social Science Research Institute. In addition, he has served the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 2011 as a research professor and lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Media and Journalism and is an adjunct associate professor with UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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.

He also now hosts a radio show on WNCU-FM, “The Measure of Everyday Life: Stories from Social Science.” The show airs on Sundays at 6:30 p.m. and focuses on people, perceptions and human behavior.

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 also published the book Innovations in Home Energy Use: A Sourcebook for Behavior Change in 2016. Southwell's latest book, Misinformation and Mass Audiences, which he coedited, appeared in January 2018.