Yuxi Wang, winner of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie post-doctoral fellowship (Horizon Europe), arrived early September 2023 for a two-year stay at INED’s Mortality, Health and Epidemiology research unit, where she’s working under the supervision of INED senior researcher Carlo-Giovanni Camarda on her research project: "The effect of resistance to epidemic measures on disease spread and mortality—what’s the role of online misinformation?".
(Interview conducted in October 2023)
What research subject(s) were you working on in Italy?
I am trained in health economics at Bocconi University under a European Training Network, and my PhD thesis is composed of several essays that address the various aspects of health disparity. As health as a construct is inherently multi-dimensional, understanding and evaluating whether the infrastructure of a society endows fair “opportunities” to its people can be a challenging task. I’ve analysed the geographic disparity in quality of health provision and the potential drivers—different provider behaviour. Looking at health status, I investigated the disparity of health outcomes due to external economic shocks and found that individuals from economically disadvantaged areas exhibit significantly worse mental health conditions. Given the geographic disparity, I further examined how different sources of information on provider quality affect patient choice and the decision to travel far for care. For all these papers, I used administrative records from hospitals and public agencies in Italy. With the advent of COVID-19, I was also involved in various projects to understand the social and economic impacts of the crisis on the elderly population in Italy. Due to my intellectual interest in how the internet sphere and especially social media have affected population health, I also carried out a systematic literature review on how different disciplines researched health-related misinformation and the way forward. My long-term aim is to connect the two broad research interests of health misinformation and health disparity, both theoretically and empirically.
What research projects will you be working on during your stay in France at INED? Are those projects directly related to your research in Italy?
At INED, I am under a Marie Curie individual fellowship, and my project title is “The effect of resistance to epidemic measures on disease spread and mortality—what’s the role of online misinformation”. One of the fundamental challenges for our society nowadays is to ensure that individual liberty and freedom of expression are cherished but not abused. The recent pandemic has manifested how, in a crisis period and especially under vast uncertainty, rampant misinformation tends to circulate on social media, fueling misunderstanding and mistrust against appropriate public interventions. In this project, I consider COVID-19 as a critical event to investigate how online misinformation regarding the vaccine, the origin of the virus, and the general scientific evidence of non-pharmaceutical interventions have affected population behaviour and, in turn, mortality rates. I aim to exploit the spatial and temporal variation of indicators, both in the physical and digital spheres, to hopefully draw causal inference. I also want to be able to decipher the socioeconomic and political determinants of the influence of misinformation. Finally, I aim to create a sociological framework for future research on how the internet, as a medium, influences population health and behaviour. At INED, I will work with Carlo Giovanni Camarda to develop an analysis of the impact of non-compliance behaviours on epidemic outcomes, especially excess mortality and hospitalization rates. I also have an external advisor based at Max Planck, Ugofilippo Basellini, with whom I will work on correlating digital data (sentiment levels) with real-world data. This project is closely connected to my previous work in Italy on health disparity and misinformation, as I try to bring my previous experience and analytical skills to a more inter-disciplinary subject at the intersection between health economics, medical sociology, social epidemiology, and computational social science.