Yale Medicine

Yale Professor of Immunology Akiko Iwasaki and Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Gregg Gonsalves ’11 GRD ’17 were named on the “50 experts to trust in a pandemic” list. The list, curated by editors of the health and wellness publication “Elemental,” presents 50 professionals that people should follow on social media for evidence-based guidance during the pandemic.

According to the website for “Elemental,” the list promotes trustworthy sources to help the general public avert the pitfalls of misinformation while staying up-to-date with COVID-19 developments. Among the experts included are Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, founder and director of Scripps Research Translational Institute Eric Topol and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden.

Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School, was also featured in the list. Faust recently founded Brief 19 –– a project that provides readers with a daily recap of new information pertaining to the pandemic. He told the News that because so much about the pandemic is being politicized, physicians, scientists and public health experts should serve as a nonpartisan voice of reason for people to use as resources.

“Our job as public health and research experts is … to contextualize news in a way that’s accurate and that doesn’t increase hype and panic without the need to do so,” Faust said. “But also on the flipside, not to downplay when things are serious.”

According to Faust, following experts on social media gives people access to balanced views and important context that mainstream outlets usually do not discuss, such as the research methods behind the discoveries that make the headlines, in addition to their reliability.

In an email to the News, Iwasaki wrote that she was delighted to be part of the list. She also added that she feels “a strong sense of duty as a scientist” to provide a knowledgeable perspective surrounding what has been discovered and what remains unknown about COVID-19. Iwasaki told the News that access to experts’ opinions allows people to make more informed decisions, making it fundamental for scientists to communicate their thoughts to a wider audience.

“There is a lot of sensational media coverage out there that is either misinformation or mis-guided information,” Iwasaki wrote. “I want to provide a voice from my scientific expertise in immunology.”

Iwasaki’s lab at the Yale School of Medicine explores how immunity is initiated and sustained. As someone who is at the forefront of COVID-19 research, she has been featured in news outlets across the globe and is an active voice within the scientific realm of Twitter. In addition to being a professor at Yale, Iwasaki is also a principal investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

In her case, Iwasaki said that she relies on experts in fields such as epidemiology, modeling and health policy to illuminate what the media is reporting on with a professional viewpoint.

“With so many opinions flying around the internet, it is important for me to hear what the experts have to say on important issues for COVID-19 transmission and control,” Iwasaki wrote.

Although Gonsalves did not respond to requests for comments from the News, he tweeted that he was “honored even to be named in the same sentence as Dr. Iwasaki.” He also added that he took Iwasaki’s immunobiology course when he was an undergraduate student at Yale, and that, as a colleague, “she is a role model for [him] and many on how to be an ethical, caring scientist and academic.”

Gonsalves was an HIV/AIDS activist for over 30 years and currently works with infectious disease epidemiology. In addition to being a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, he is also an associate professor of Law at the Yale Law School.

Hanna Ehrlich GRD ’22, a doctoral student at the School of Public Health and a fellow at the Global Health Justice Partnership, wrote in an email to the News that those who are unfamiliar with epidemiology can often dismiss “the importance of history in the translation and practice of science in society.” However, she wrote, Gonsalves has been through this before, “fighting for accessible science in the face of myriad political obstacles during the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s.”

On campus, Gonsalves spearheads initiatives including the Global Health Justice Partnership –– which focuses on the cross section between global health, human rights and social justice –– and the Collaboration for Research Integrity and Transparency –– which aims to improve the quality and transparency of evidence behind medical products. On Twitter, Gonsalves has also been active in debunking misinformation and exposing those who distort scientific and public health guidance for political or ulterior motives.

“Gregg calls out B.S. like no one else,” Ehrlich wrote. “But he also acknowledges the limitations and strengths of scientific evidence, giving his audience more agency than others might.”

According to Elizabeth White GRD ’22, who is also a doctoral student at the School of Public Health and fellow at the GHJP, Gonsalves’s career –– both in HIV/AIDS activism and as a professor –– has largely centered on how political systems can engender structural inequities and health disparities.

In Gonsalves’ course “Political Epidemiology,” White says that he teaches students how to methodically analyze the impact of policy decisions on population health outcomes, especially for infectious diseases such as HIV. To White, his course shapes students into “educated consumers of studies.”

White also wrote that one of Gonsalves’ greatest strengths as teacher, public health leader and Twitter communicator is that he “tells it like it is, based on data and his wealth of experiences.”

Iwasaki told the News that while professional perspectives are important, it can be dangerous for people to speak with authority on areas that do not fall within their own field of expertise. Iwasaki said that she knows for herself “the boundaries of [her] expertise and knowledge and will only speak of what [she is] capable of evaluating.”

Iwasaki also commented on a lack of diverse representation in the media when it comes to spotlighting scientific experts.

“Women and people of color are not being well represented as ‘experts’ speaking on social and traditional media,” Iwasaki wrote. “This unfortunately turns the clock backwards on any progress we were making before the pandemic for what a scientist looks like. For this reason, I feel even more committed to speaking to the media and through social media to disseminate scientific truth.”

Iwasaki did tell the News, however, that she believes that the 50 experts list did a great job in representing a diverse group of scientists.

Hannah Ro ’22 told the News that she started following Iwasaki on Twitter during the pandemic and enjoys keeping up with the research she shares. To Ro, who is enthusiastic about science and public health, Iwasaki is a role model.

“When I see Dr. Iwasaki on Twitter and on the news I’m really inspired,” Ro said, “First of all because she’s a woman and second of all because she’s Asian, and for me to see an Asian woman being a leader in her field is just really cool.”

As of Oct. 1, there have been 7.3 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the United States.

Maria Fernanda Pacheco | maria.pacheco@yale.edu

Maria Fernanda Pacheco is a staff reporter for the Science & Technology desk of the Yale Daily News. Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College majoring in Neuroscience and participating in the Global Health Studies program.