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Responding to COVID-19: Science and Human Rights

AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program staff have been conducting interviews with thought leaders on science and human rights, in which they share their answers to frequently asked questions about the pandemic's human rights implications. Watch all of the videos below or check out the full playlist on the AAAS YouTube channel.

Francella Ochillo

Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities, speaks about the gaps of opportunity in American society, generosity and inventiveness during the pandemic, and the need for long-term solutions for the millions of Americans who lack reliable internet access.


How lack of broadband access prevents many Americans from participating in a digital society, why this matters, and the need to find solutions:

Robert Quinn

Robert Quinn, Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network, explains three kinds of risks that scholars around the world are facing during the pandemic.

On what colleges and universities can do to assist threatened scholars during the pandemic, and how the stories of these individuals can be uplifting during difficult times:

Quinn describes how all scientists, regardless of discipline, can find themselves at risk when the evidence they are sharing contradicts the interests of the powerful. He encourages the members of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition and other scientific associations to take action to protect colleagues at risk and promote academic freedom.

How scholars and researchers can assist colleagues under threat, and the importance of cultivating “a culture of values” to support academic freedom:

Dr. Ranit Mishori

Dr. Mishori describes the lack of resources and other challenges medical professionals face during the COVID-19 pandemic, and explains why authorities and hospitals need to respect health professionals’ human rights.

An overview of some of the populations particularly at risk during the pandemic.

The particular risks faced by asylum seekers and people in immigration detention:

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, describes the challenges to democratic institutions during the pandemic.

On actions scientists can take:

Jeramie Scott

Jeramie Scott, Senior Counsel and Director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), recommends guidelines for collecting data during the pandemic in ways that respect people’s privacy and rights.

On why the notion of a tradeoff between data collection and privacy rights during the pandemic is a “false choice":

Nina Jankowicz

Nina Jankowicz, Disinformation Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, shares her advice on how to practice “informational distancing” in today’s highly charged media environment.

On ways scientists can engage with the public to present accurate information and combat misinformation related to COVID-19:

On current challenges in tracking and combating online disinformation:

Rebecca Everly

Rebecca Everly, Director of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Human Rights, describes the concerning trends the Committee is following during the pandemic, including legislation and policy developments and attacks on health professionals.

Are you a scientist, engineer, or health professional looking to support colleagues at risk or volunteer your skills during the pandemic? Everly highlights several different resources and opportunities:

Kimberly Mealy

Kimberly Mealy, PhD, is Senior Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Ethics at the American Political Science Association (APSA), and is an APSA representative to AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. In this video, she describes the importance of conveying evidence-based studies to the public in an accessible way, and how APSA is responding to the pandemic.

Her advice for researchers during the pandemic, including the importance of conducting well-rounded and inclusive research:

Keri Iyall Smith

Keri Iyall Smith, Associate Professor of Sociology at Suffolk University and representative to the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition for Sociologists without Borders, outlines the challenges indigenous peoples in the US are facing from COVID-19 and how Native American communities are responding to the pandemic.

On how sociologists are using the tools of their discipline to analyze the COVID-19 pandemic, including the structural inequalities that lead to worse outcomes for vulnerable and marginalized populations:


Shelly Lesher

Shelly Lesher is a nuclear physicist, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and past chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists. She describes how physicists are supporting the COVID-19 response, including assisting in the production of ventilators, working with local hospitals, and providing modeling expertise:


Ali Arab

Ali Arab is Associate Professor of Statistics at Georgetown University and a representative to the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition for the American Statistical Association. In this video, he articulates the different ways statisticians are using their expertise to assist in the response to the pandemic, from clinical trials to public engagement.

On why the human right to science matters in the context of the pandemic: