PRB President and CEO Jeff Jordan Calls for Governments, Civil Society to Combat Disinformation During 17th Rafael M. Salas Memorial Lecture

NEW YORK—In an address at United Nations headquarters yesterday, PRB President and CEO Jeff N. Jordan urged governments and civil society to boldly challenge rising disinformation and public mistrust with evidence-based solutions. Jordan delivered the 17th Rafael M. Salas Memorial Lecture to a live and virtual audience that included Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); members of the diplomatic corps; and the family of Rafael M. Salas.

Noting that informed skepticism is essential to making good decisions, Jordan said the current trend of people indiscriminately dismissing the authority of knowledge-producing institutions could have dangerous consequences and profound implications for the lives of real people.

“A belief in science and a commitment to evidence-based decision-making is at the heart of the modern democratic state,” said Jordan. “Without a shared set of facts and agreed upon standards for verification, rational decision-making becomes impossible.”

The lecture was followed by a panel discussion featuring Jordan, Kanem, and youth activist Jean Christophe Rusatira. During the discussion, moderated by Sherwin Bryce-Pease, bureau chief and correspondent for SABC News (South African Broadcasting Corporation), speakers shared their insights on how communities could tackle growing challenges to long-established facts and build common understanding to achieve solutions.

“Just as Rafael Salas traversed the globe to build consensus on population and development issues, today we all must unite in common pursuit of policies that are based on evidence, on science, and on strong data,” Kanem said, acknowledging the additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rusatira said his generation must play a role in stemming disinformation, but may face challenges because of a lack of digital access. “We sometimes focus on connected young people and forget that there is also a big number who are not connected who equally need the same attention and the same resources,” he said.

The lecture series was initiated in 1989 as a tribute to Rafael M. Salas, who was the UNFPA’s first executive director. Past speakers include the Honorable Dr. Saburo Okita, former foreign minister of Japan; Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University; and Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, former United Nations deputy secretary-general. A recording of the lecture is available on the UNFPA website. The full text of Jordan’s speech is available on the PRB website.


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