SNF Agora Institute Awards 10 Grants to JHU Faculty

The SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University has awarded its fourth round of annual Faculty Grants, which will fund 10 projects during the 2024–25 academic year. The $3,000–$10,000 grants—which have been awarded to faculty from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineeringthe School of Advanced International Studiesthe Carey Business School, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health—will fund conferences, workshops, a film screening, research projects, and other activities.

Faculty recipients will explore a range of topics such as campaign finance, racism and political science, misinformation, and the role of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in determining truth, language, and civic engagement.

“We are excited to be supporting Hopkins faculty across several schools who are seeking to study modern democratic challenges and identify solutions—improving electoral oversight, reducing information polarization, and building better online discourse, for example,” said Stephen Ruckman, managing director of the SNF Agora Institute. “We look forward to seeing how their projects unfold in the coming year.”

Launched in fall 2020, the SNF Agora Faculty Grants Program was established to support and amplify faculty work that is complementary to the institute’s mission. By providing these grants, SNF Agora aims to foster interdisciplinary collaborations across the university and support efforts to reinvigorate global democracy and the civic spaces that fuel it.

The recipients of the 2024–25 SNF Agora Faculty Grants are:

The Global Elections Dashboard: Harnessing Data Science to Enhance Electoral Oversight 

Adam Sheingate, Professor of Political Science, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Tom Lippincott, Associate Research Professor of Computer Science, Whiting School of Engineering

Researchers are developing an open-access database providing information about campaign finance and political spending around the world. Funding will support two workshops where engineers, social scientists, government information specialists, data journalists, and transparency advocates will identify the opportunities and limitations of existing technologies to inform the development of the database.

Civic Discussions to Combat Unethical and Reality-Distorting Technologies

Christopher Honey, Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Janice Chen, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Grantees are investigating the ways in which technology is changing our relationship to truth and to each other. They will host a conference for thoughts leaders in academia, journalism, government, industry, the military and the public sector to discuss issues related to privacy, neuroethics, and misinformation.

Isn’t It Ironic:  How Perceptions of Democratic Backsliding Shape Views of China

David Bulman, the Jill McGovern and Steven Muller Assistant Professor of China Studies, School of Advanced International Studies

This grant will be used to explore how people feel about the strength of their own, domestic, democratic institutions and whether that impacts their willingness to deepen political, economic, and security ties with China. Funding will help support population-based surveys in nine democratic countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.

AI-Curated Democratic Discourse

Jason Eisner, Professor of Computer Science, Whiting School of Engineering

Daniel Khashabi, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Whiting School of Engineering

Ziang Xiao, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Whiting School of Engineering

Andrew Perrin, Professor of Sociology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

To provide more productive and positive engagement on social media, grantees are developing a new user interface that employs generative AI to offer suggestions and help users draft posts, simulate potential reactions to draft posts, and boost high-quality posts from other conversations. Funding will support a study exploring how people engage with the new interface and whether their experience differs from that of the people who use the standard interface.


Polarization in the Age of AI and the Post-Truth Era

Chen Cheng, Assistant Professor of Economics, Carey Business School

Jessie Liu, Assistant Professor of Economics and Marketings, Carey Business School

Itay Fainmesser, Associate Professor of Economics and Marketings, Carey Business School

Grantees will bring economists, political scientists, marketing experts, social psychologists, computer scientists, industry experts, tech companies, federal regulators, and others together to discuss the relationship between political polarization and technological advancements. Participants will have the opportunity to form research collaborations to better understand how information is consumed, shared, and regulated in the digital age.

A Shot in the Arm: Film Screening and Dialogue 

Maria Bulzacchelli, Director of the Undergraduate Program in Public Health Studies, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Misinformation linking routine childhood immunizations to autism and other health conditions continues to erode trust in vaccination programs. The grantees propose to screen A Shot in the Arm, a documentary that explores the anti-vaccination movement and the politicization of science. The screening will include an opportunity for Johns Hopkins students, faculty, and staff to discuss higher education’s role in promoting scientific understanding and its influence on public health policy.

Workshop on Transnational Advocacy and the Far-Right 

Nina Hall, Assistant Professor of International Relations, School of Advanced International Studies

Jessica Gover, Political Science PhD Candidate, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

In this moment of extreme partisan polarization and the ascent of right-wing populism, there is an emerging community of scholars from across Europe and the U.S. is at the forefront of studying the contemporary right. Researchers will co-host a two-day workshop bringing together these scholars to deepen our understanding of transnational advocacy and the far-right.


Johns Hopkins Summer School on Racial Politics  

Robbie Shilliam, Professor of Political Science, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

The Johns Hopkins Summer School on Racial Politics trains graduate students to critically assess the framework of political science as a discipline and to study racism in American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. Funding will expand the program, helping to bring on additional graduate students, as well as visiting faculty and community members.

AI, New Publics, and the Ethics of Language

Scott MacLochlainn, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

AI, machine learning, and natural language processing are changing public discourse and how we engage with language. The grant will support preliminary research into the ways in which AI collects, analyzes, and reproduces language and the political, legal, ethical, and social questions that arise when AI finds its own voice.

Understanding and Mitigating Generative Echo Chamber in Conversational Search

Ziang Xiao, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Whiting School of Engineering

Exposure to diverse viewpoints is essential for critical thinking and informed decision-making, and yet AI-based chatbots can trap information seekers in an echo chamber of like-minded opinions. This grant will be used to develop strategies that combat the echo chamber effect, encourage constructive dialogue, and improve civic engagement.