EPISTEMIC COMMUNICATIONS: THE POLITICS OF CONFRONTING THE GLOBAL COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Katie Workman – Research on Capitol Hill 2021

(Mentor: Brent Steele)

  Government and health authorities have created diverse messaging surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, from countries like Sweden adopting a passive approach focused on the development of herd immunity to harsh lockdowns focused on eradicating the virus within national borders like New Zealand. Countries like the United Kingdom have pivoted approaches from herd immunity to preventive lockdowns focused on containment, as well. The United States has favored a patchwork approach to pandemic, with state and local officials making widely-different approaches. Some states have favored longer lockdowns like California, while others reopened early like Texas. Some major cities require the wearing of masks in public spaces, while other government officials like President Trump refuse to wear masks at all.
  This research proposal seeks to answer the question “What explains variations in community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic?” with a focus on the role of epistemic communities (communities of experts) in influencing political officials’ policies and their messaging. I hope to examine the cause-effect relationship of scientific evidence on shaping local, national, and international responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  By working on this research, I hope to identify and explain how messaging surrounding COVID-19 has become partisan in certain areas such as the US, while nations like South Korea see almost universal acceptance of the advice of health experts. The role and perception of epistemic communities varies widely internationally, with illuminating implications for public health policy and the limits of expert opinion when not legitimized by those in power. In a moment where such diverse responses and messaging shifts are the literal difference of hundreds of thousands of lives, an interdisciplinary approach to international political communications can aid public health policymakers amid future crises, and identify current critical failures in public health infrastructure. Such work is also critical in holding public officials and governments accountable for the effects of their words, and developing more effective communications for the future.

House Representative: Raymond Ward
Senate Representative: Todd Weiler