Coronavirus Conversations Hosted by Science & Society

Coronavirus Conversations

Coronavirus Conversations draw together experts from various fields to discuss the vast societal implications of the pandemic, how the situation is developing, and what must be done to protect us in the future.

Coronavirus Conversations:

A virtual event series from Duke Science & Society

As we practice social distancing, engage in online learning, and work remotely we are burdened with questions about how this pandemic is affecting our lives, the lives of those we love, and the society we are a part of. Over the course of this event series faculty and staff from Duke Science and Society will join academics, lawmakers, students, researchers, doctors, and others to shed some light on the events happening around us and what life will start to look like moving forward.

We will have moderated, casual lunch-time discussions with brief Q&A held via Zoom chat.

This virtual event series is open to the public.
Press covering the coronavirus outbreak are welcome to attend.


Upcoming Conversations in 2020

Coronavirus Conversations: The COVID-19 Pandemic Narrative – What Stories Do We Tell?

Thursday May 28, 2020 12:30 PM (EDT), Zoom

This event is co-hosted by the Duke Center on Risk.


How society talks about an infectious disease has serious consequences. The so-called “outbreak narrative” of a particular contagion will affect exposure pathways, infection rates, mitigation options, and economic impacts. It can also lead to the stigmatization of particular individuals, groups, locales, behaviors, or lifestyles. How should we understand the level of concern and captivation elicited by the coronavirus as reflected in government decisions, public messaging, and social and mainstream media? Have these responses been commensurate with the actual risks? Has the narrative around coronavirus followed a storyline similar to past contagions?  How has culture, including popular science, fiction, and film affected the public’s perception of the current situation? What is the basis for the many conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” that have emerged? Our panel seeks to explore how the stories we tell about this virus and its risks are at the root of how we are all living our lives at the moment.

Join Duke Science & Society and our panel of experts to discuss how we tell the story of the COVID-19 pandemic and why the language we use and the stories we tell matter.

Panelists :

Dr. Christopher Cummings, Senior Research Fellow at NCSU, Founding Director of Decision Analytica, LLC

Dr. Brian Southwell, Senior Director of The Science in the Public Sphere Program in the Center For Communication Science at RTI International

Dr. Priscilla Wald, R. Florence Brinkley Distinguished Professor of English, Duke University


Dr. Mark Borsuk, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Co-Director, Duke Center on Risk, Duke University



RSVP for connection details



Coronavirus Conversations: How The Electric Power Sector is Weathering The Pandemic


Co-Hosted by

The Nicholas Institute For Environmental Policy Solutions  


The Duke University Energy Initiative


Monday June 1, 2020 12:30 PM (EDT), Zoom

The electric power sector is facing major operational challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Traditional fossil-fuel fired electric power plants have taken extraordinary steps to maintain staff availability in the shadow of contagion. Still, in late March, the EPA suspended enforcement of much of its air and water discharge requirements for electric power facilities unable to comply due to COVID-19-related staffing concerns. At the same time, distributed energy saw over 15% of its workforce furloughed, and new installations slowed or stopped, due to stay-at-home orders.

Join Duke Science & Society and a panel of Duke University and industry experts as they discuss how the electric power sector is weathering these challenges—and what the impact might be for the energy transition.

Hosted by The Duke University Initiative for Science and Society, The Duke University Energy Initiative, and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Panelists :

Kate Konschnik, J.D. Director, Climate & Energy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School

Michael D Smith, J.D. Senior Vice President, Distributed Energy, Constellation



Sarah Rispin Sedlak, J.D.  Duke Science & Society Instructor, Lead – Energy


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Coronavirus Conversations: Behind COVID-19: The Disease, The Effects, And The Treatments

Rescheduled: Friday. June 5 2020, 12:30  PM (EDT) , Zoom


If you read the news about COVID-19 enough you may start to get confused about what exactly the disease is. What are the symptoms? What is the difference between mild and severe cases? What happens to the body when COVID-19 develops? What are the the treatments and are they effective? It can be difficult to know what information is accurate as more disinformation from bad actors takes hold of social media.

Join Duke Science & Society Director Nita Farahany as she talks with Dr. Cameron Wolfe – an infections disease specialist and leader of the Duke Remdesivir trial – as we demystify COVID-19 and learn about the disease causing global panic.

Update May 22: The date and time are currently pending for this event. Please RSVP and we will update when the date and time are confirmed.

Panelists :

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, MBBS, Associate Professor of Medicine; Clinical Expert In Rbespirartory and Infectious Disease, Duke University

Dr. Nita Farahany, J.D., PhD, Director, Duke Initiative For Science & Society; Professor of Law and Philosophy, Duke University



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Have an idea for a future Coronavirus Conversation ?


Past Events


Coronavirus Conversations: Surviving & Thriving As A STEM Graduate Student During The Pandemic

Co-hosted by The Duke University Graduate School.

Being a graduate student in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) discipline is always challenging and stressful.  How do the stresses and challenges increase during a pandemic, when students abruptly find themselves unable to go into their lab or do their field work?  How can graduate students adapt to these additional challenges, and what can advisors and graduate schools do to support them during these challenging times?  Are new opportunities for STEM graduate students arising during the pandemic, and if so, how can grad students take advantage of these opportunities?

Join Duke Science & Society as we discuss the unique challenges of STEM graduate school work during a global pandemic.

Panelists :

Alexandra Kralick, 4th-year PhD student Biological Anthropology, University. of Pennsylvania.  She studies human evolution and Tweets @BioAnthFunFacts

Susanna Harris. PhD, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Microbiology. While in grad school she started PhD Balance ( to support/promote mental health and well being for grad students.  She Tweets @SusannaLHarris

Melissa Bostrom, Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Professional Development in The Graduate School at Duke University, Director, Duke Graduate School Emerging Leader Institute and Professional Development Series


Jory Weintraub, Ph.D. Science Communication Program Director, Senior Lecturing Fellow, Duke Initiative for Science & Society



Coronavirus Conversations: Immigration and The Pandemic

As the current coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through multiple, interconnected societies, U.S. immigration policy has become both a political and epidemiological question. Immigrant detention, asylum, and labor policies are now critical matters of public health as cases of COVID-19 accelerate in relation to immigration enforcement and low-wage employment. Additionally, the pandemic is taking place in a national context in which contemporary health, welfare, and immigration reforms increasingly exclude noncitizens. What does this policy environment mean for global efforts to contain the pandemic, and how might the U.S. best adapt its immigration approach to prioritize public health during this moment of crisis?

Join Duke Science & Society and our panel of experts to discuss how U.S. immigration policies relate to the coronavirus pandemic, the specific risks immigrants and immigrant communities may be facing during this time, and what kinds of policy changes may be necessary to reduce its public health impact.

Panelists :

Kate Evans, J.D. Clinical Professor of Law, Director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, Duke University

Sabrineh Ardalan, J.D. Clinical Professor of Law, Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, Harvard University

Salvador G. Sarmiento, National Campaign Director, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)


Meredith Van Natta, Ph.D. Medical Sociologist and Postdoctoral Associate at the Science, Law & Policy (SLAP) Lab, Duke University

Co-Sponsored by The Duke University School Of Law.


Coronavirus Conversations: Coronavirus & Mental Health

Coping Through The Pandemic

Vulnerable populations are hit particularly hard by public emergencies, and with many people out of work, stuck at home, and fearful of infection, the unaddressed mental health needs in our country are rising to the surface. In tandem with that rise people are struggling to get care for existing mental health concerns as clinicians and non-profits are stretched thin trying to provide for their patients and communities while also trying to stay healthy and safe themselves. As the lockdown continues and the economic fallout from the pandemic worsens, these problems will only become worse.

Join Duke Science & Society and our panel of experts to discuss what the mental health care landscape looks like right now, what we can be doing right now to improve mental health care outcomes, and how we prepare for the growth in cases we may see after we return to a “new normal.”

Panelists :

Clara S. Kelly,  MSW, Outreach Coordinator, NAMI-NYC

Louise Newton, MSW, LCSW, SEP, Director of Clinical Psychotherapy, Mind Path Care Centers


Coronavirus Conversations: Coronavirus And The Wealth Gap

Pandemics And Poverty

Communities of color, immigrant communities, and low-income communities often feel the negative effects of societal crises’ more acutely than the rest of society and Coronavirus has been no exception. Many low-income people in the United States do not have the ability to stay at home and many work in positions that may make it difficult or impossible to social distance. Additionally, lack of access to healthcare before the pandemic makes it more likely that these communities have comorbidities that put them at greater risk for infection and serious complications.

Join Duke Science & Society and our panel of experts to discuss what is being done to help underserved communities, what policy decisions have led to this problem, and what choices we need to make after the pandemic to protect the most at-risk populations.

Read The Kaiser Family Foundation white paper on the subject: Higher COVID-19 Incidence in Minority Communities 

Panelists :

Dr. Anna Gassman-Pines, Associate Professor, Sanford School for Public Policy

David Anderson, Research Associate, Margolis Center For Health Policy

Co-Sponsored by The Sanford School of Public Policy


Coronavirus Conversations: Are We Doing Enough? Federal & International Response

This event is being co-sponsored by the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy.
For the past several months, we have watched the response to the Coronavirus around the world. Shut downs and stay-at-home orders are the new normal for much of the world as the international community struggles to defeat the pandemic. As politicians across the world begin to discuss re-opening the shuttered global economy, experts continue to warn that we must take the re-opening of society slowly. Join Duke Science & Society, and our expert panel, to discuss the response to the Coronavirus pandemic at a federal and international level. What countries have been the most effective at keeping the spread of the virus in check? What countries are not doing enough? What is being done by NGO’s, charities, and other international groups to fight the pandemic? What is the right approach to resuming normal life? What will our new “normal life” look like?

Moderator & Panelists :
Dr. Gavin Yamey, Associate Director for Policy, Duke Global Health Institute
Asher Hildebrand, Associate Professor of the Practice, Sanford School of Public Policy
Dr. Nita Farahany, Director, Duke Science & Society, Professor of Law and Philosophy

Co-Sponsored by The Sanford School Of Public Policy


Coronavirus Conversations: Duke In Durham: A Coordinated Pandemic Response

Friday April 24, 2020 12:00 PM (EDT), Zoom

City governments are fighting on the frontline of the Coronavirus Pandemic. As local businesses shut down and greater numbers of people are in need of public assistance, cities and states are moving fast to figure out how to support their citizens in this difficult time. Local government officials are working to find the difficult balance between social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and planning to help local economies recover once the pandemic ends. Likewise, institutions of higher education are struggling to balance the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students, with the need to provide educational instruction, vital research, and healthcare services. How have these local institutions worked together to ensure a coordinated response to the Coronavirus pandemic?

Join Duke Science & Society and our expert panel as we discuss the how city governments are responding to the Coronavirus pandemic and how private institutions are working with local government officials to ensure a coordinated response.

Moderator & Panelists :
Mayor Pro Tempore of Durham, Jillian Johnson
Duke Vice President, Public Affairs and Government Relations, Michael J. Schoenfeld
Duke Science & Society Director, Professor of Law and Philosophy, Dr. Nita A. Farahany


Coronavirus Conversations: Coronavirus And The Military

Recent reports have highlighted the unique challenges the pandemic poses for our nation’s military. News of infections on U.S. Navy ships and of a VA Healthcare System stretched even thinner raise concern for those in service to our country. How are military leaders protecting and supporting military personnel, veterans, and their families while preserving the readiness of the United States Armed Forces? How do their decisions differ from those made for civilians?

Join Duke Science & Society and our expert panel as we discuss the effect of the current global public health crisis on military readiness, veterans healthcare, and military families.

Moderator & Panelists :
Former Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff General Martin Dempsey
Major General Charles Dunlap Jr
Deputy Director, Duke Science & Society Buz Waitzkin


Coronavirus Conversations: Beauty In Crisis: Art During And After The Pandemic

With social distancing and stay-at-home orders closing public places in many countries people across the globe can now longer enjoy art museums, galleries, symphonies, live theatre, and many other arts institutions. Artists and arts organizations continue to struggle to virtualize their programs both to provide art to the public and to stay financially viable in order to resume their work after the pandemic has ended. At the same time, people stuck at home crave the opportunity to enjoy art in order to soothe and comfort them in these trying times. Join Duke Science and Society as we discuss with artists and scholars the importance of art during this time of societal upheaval, what we can learn from history about art created during times of crisis, and what art will look like after the pandemic.

Moderator & Panelists :

Tracy Manning, Dr. Priscilla Wald, Dr. Joseph Donahue, and Dr. Ariana Eily


Coronavirus Conversations: Rationing, Shortages, and Triage: Pandemics and Medical Decision Making

As updates pour in from the hardest hit areas in New York, Detroit, and across Europe the news is filled with stories of respirator shortages, inadequate PPE, and a coming peak that will stretch medical resources even further. In times like these doctors, nurses, and administrators are being forced to make tough decisions. When supplies run out, medical personnel must make difficult decisions to decide who will receive what treatment and how that treatment should be rationed. In the next installment of our Coronavirus Conversations we will be discussing these critical care decisions and how tough choices are being made everyday in hospitals everywhere.

Moderator & Panelists :

Dr. Monica Lemmon and Dr. Peter Ubel and Science & Society Deputy Director Buz Waitzkin for this conversation.


Coronavirus Conversations: Science Communication in the Time of Coronavirus

During an unprecedented time, when virtually all science communication seems to be focusing on the Coronavirus pandemic and lives literally hang in the balance, effective science communication is more important than ever. What sources should you trust? How much of the current information is accurate and being effectively communicated? How can scientists and science communicators ensure that “good” science is communicated, while combating the spread of “bad” information? Why does public trust of expertise seem to be so severely challenged right now? What roles do social media play? Join us for a discussion with a panel of renowned experts in science journalism, science writing and science communication research, who will answer these questions and others you have about science communication in the time of Coronavirus.

Moderator & Panelists :

Dominque Brossard, PhD, Sheril Kirshenbaum, MS, MPP, Maryn McKenna, MSJ, and Dietram Scheufele, MA, PhD.

Jory Weintraub, PhD will moderate.


Watch It Here


Coronavirus Conversations: Information Sharing During An Epidemic

As the world struggles to contain the economic, political, social, and health impacts of the COVID-19 virus, it is also wrestling with how both online censorship and the open internet have helped the spread of the virus. Social media and other digital platforms provide critical opportunities outside of official channels to share accurate information about emerging diseases. However, these online platforms have also facilitated the spread of misleading information about the coronavirus. While international health authorities, governments and social media companies are engaged in efforts to combat it, they are struggling to keep up.

Our experts Brian Langloss, P.h.D and Sarah Rispin Sedlack, J.D. recently co-authored a policy brief titled “Information Sharing During an Epidemic: Policies and Best Practices” making recommendations for actions to facilitate information sharing across all platforms.

Join Duke Science and Society to discuss the important lessons about the negative impact of closed information regimes on efforts to contain and combat emerging pandemics, the importance of an open internet, and the dangers of mis- and disinformation.

Read more about digital epidemiology in this interview with Roll Call.


Watch It Here