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Dr. Bernard Cobetto Lecture Series on Contemporary Ethical Issues

15th Annual Dr. Bernard Cobetto Lecture Series on contemporary ethical issues

Dr. Michael Colaresi headshotThe Earth Is Flat (On Our Screens): How Democracy is Disrupted By Disinformation and Digital Illusions of Information and Control

Presented by Dr. Michael Colaresi
William S. Dietrich II Professor of Political Science
Research and Academic Director for Pitt Cyber
September 28 • 7pm • Ferguson Theater (Smith Hall)
Watch the lecture online

"The information ecosystems that democratic citizens rely upon have changed remarkably over the last thirty years. However, understanding the social consequences of those changes, from TikTok dances, to iPhones notifications, to ad tech influence is extremely challenging. In this talk, I will discuss how our misunderstandings of the digital and computational revolutions we are living through — fueled by inapt analog metaphors (e.g. browsing the web, when it is browsing you) and the opacity of the code that mediates online observation of the world (e.g. ytcfg.set({"CSI_SERVICE_NAME": 'youtube', ...,})) — are undercutting the advantages of democratic governance relative to autocracies. I will also discuss how the Pitt Disinformation Lab at the University of Pittsburgh is attempting to push back against these digital illusions, not only, or even mainly, with computational tools and math, but by investing in and re-centering in-person, local contacts and connections in Western Pennsylvania."


The Dr. Bernard Cobetto Lecture Series was established at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg by Dr. Cobetto and his wife, Ellen, in 2005. It is held each year and focuses on contemporary ethical issues.

The Cobettos are residents of Greensburg. Dr. Cobetto is a 1945 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and a 1947 graduate of the University’s School of Medicine.

"We have always tried to uphold good ethics in our lives. Having strong values and moral principles is something we’ve tried to instill in our children and grandchildren, and we hope that through our gift to the University of Pittsburgh that we can help inspire other young people, too."

— Ellen Cobetto, World of Giving magazine


Previous Speakers for the Cobetto Lecture

2020 (Canceled due to the COVID-19 lockdown): Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, and the Future of Work | A distinguished panel of experts discussing: How much will automation impact jobs of the future? What obligations do we have to manage the effects of technology as it will inevitably influence our life?

2019: Climate Change and Its Effect on Western Pennsylvania | A panel discussion presented by Dr. Richard B. Alley (Penn State University), Dr. Inês Azevedo (Carnegie Mellon University), Grant Ervin (Office of Mayor William Peduto), Barry Kukovich (Peoples Gas Company) and moderator Dr. V. Kerry Smith (Arizona State University)

2018: Sexual Misconduct: Perspectives on the Problem, Possibilities for Resolution | A panel discussion presented by Honorable John J. Driscoll, Westmoreland Court of Common Pleas; Ann M. Emmerling, Executive Director of the Blackburn Center; David Karp, PhD, professor of Sociology and director of the Project on Restorative Justice at Skidmore College; Katie Pope, Title IX Coordinator for the University of Pittsburgh

2017: Public Relations, Public Policy, and Crisis Communications in a World that Relies on Social Media | Presented by William Chess, MBA, Equity Partner and CFO of Public Policy Holding Company; Retired COO of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

2016: Restorative Justice: Exploring Ethics and Criminal Justice in the Age of Mass Incarceration | Presented by Joanne Katz, JD, Missouri Western State University

2015: Toward an Ethics of Love and Hope: Five Transformational Ideas | Presented by William Rued, PhD, Pitt-Greensburg

2014: End-of-Life-Care Issues | A panel discussion presented by Robert Arnold, PhD, Leo H. Creip Chair of Patient Care, Department of Medicine; Director, Palliative Care Service; Director of the Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication with the University of Pittsburgh and the Medical Director of Palliative and Supportive Care Institute of UPMC; Helen Burns, PhD, RN, FAAN, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer and a member of the Excela Health Board of Trustees; and John Dickson IV, President and CEO of Redstone Presbyterian SeniorCare

2013: When the Earth Moves Under Our Feet: The Pennsylvania Marcellus Gas Rush | Presented by Wendy Lynn Lee, PhD, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, with a community panel

2012: Madmen, Educrats, and Demagogues: Confessions of a Recovering Politician | Presented by John E. Abraham, PhD, author of From the Ballpark to the Boardroom: Lessons for CEOs from a Little League Coach

2011: Leadership Lessons from the Oval Office and the Board Room | Presented by Kenneth M. Duberstein, Chief of Staff to President Ronald Reagan from 1988 to 1989

2010: The Role of a Leader in Creating a Values-Based Institution | Presented by Paul H. O’Neill, former Secretary of the US Treasury

2009: Ethical Leadership: The ‘Tipping Point’ in a Financial Crisis | Presented by Dr. Barbara Porco, Director of Program Development, Fordham University, Schools of Business (now Gabelli Schools of Business)

2008: Trusting the Media in a Presidential Year: Can We or Not? A Look at Freedom of the Press in the Digital Age | Presented by Dr. Everette Dennis, Fordham University

2007: Just Care: Rationing in a Public Health Crisis | Presented by James Childress, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics and Professor of Medical Education at the University of Virginia

2006: How To Be Good | Presented by Randy Cohen, columnist for the New York Times Magazine