European Research Council awards Starting Grant to Joana Gonçalves de Sá, Professor at NOVA School of Business & Economics

Lisbon, 3rd of September, the European Research Council has awarded  a 1.5 million euros Starting Grant to Joana Gonçalves de Sá to conduct the research project – Fake News and Real People – Using Big Data to Understand Human Behaviour (FARE). Joana Gonçalves de Sá is an Associate Professor and coordinator of the research group on “Data Science and Policy” at NOVA School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), and uses experimental and computational techniques (“big data” and complex systems) to study the decision-making process.

Over the next 5 years this funding will allow Joana Gonçalves de Sá to continue her multidisciplinary research, deepening  our understanding of the decision-making process cognitive biases, using the spread of fake news as a model system.

The so-called digital revolution and the amount of information generated by our online activity is, for the first time, offering us the opportunity to study human behaviour at an almost universal scale. But this recent surge in online activity, coupled with poor digital literacy, consumer profiling, and large profits from ad revenues, created a perfect storm for the Fake News epidemic, with still unimaginable consequences”.

Joana Gonçalves de Sá believes that “Although false information is far from new in human history, recent events, from the anti-vaccination movement to Brexit, raise serious concerns about its current influence and the manipulation to which we are subject to“.

This challenge is interdisciplinary and requires academic research to guide current calls for action issued by academics, governmental and non-governmental agencies, and the social network platforms themselves. FARE will enrich current efforts, which mostly confront Fake News spreading from an applied perspective, by offering a theoretical framework that allows us to make testable predictions.

We will use a combination of methods. We will borrow theory from cognitive and behavioral psychology, mathematical models from epidemiology and complex systems, to try to understand how we decide, at any given moment, to share (or not) some piece of information. Studying this problem from such a theoretical and conceptual perspective has the potential to profoundly increase our knowledge of human behavior and information dissemination, while also tackling specific problems in communication (science, political), economics and psychology”, explains the professor and researcher of Nova SBE. “In addition, we will develop new techniques to allow us to analyze individual data in an ethical and responsible manner. With the digital era we have created a huge “macroscope” and now we have to learn how to use it, in line with our highest standards and with the European values.

European Research Council Starting Grants support researchers who demonstrate a scientific path of excellence by enabling them to consolidate their scientific career and research group.

Miguel Ferreira, President of the Nova SBE Scientific Council, states that “the awarding of the most prestigious European Research Grant to Joana Gonçalves de Sá is a recognition of the excellent work she and her team have been doing and the innovative nature of the studies they will develop in the coming years. This grant is also unique given the multidisciplinary nature of the research carried out in this project that crosses data science, economics, behaviour and public health. It also recognizes Nova SBE’s investment in the use of big data and artificial intelligence in the study and search for solutions of the current challenges facing companies and the society as a whole”.

Elvira Fortunato, Vice-Rector of the Scientific Council for Exact Sciences and Engineering at NOVA – University of Lisbon states that “this scholarship reinforces NOVA University’s position in the area of scientific research. We now have 20 of the 104 ERC grants awarded to Portugal since the beginning of the programme, representing about 19% nationwide. On the other hand, being one of NOVA’s key strategies the promotion and attraction of scientific talent, this scholarship clearly shows the investment that has been made. To Professor Joana Gonçalves de Sá, I wish the upmost success, as this will be the success of NOVA as well”.

Photo by Instituto Gulbenkian e Ciência.