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Pitt-Greensburg’s Cobetto Lecture to discuss disinformation and the threat to democracy: Michael P. Colaresi, PhD, from Pitt Cyber to speak

Dr. Michael Colaresi headshot photoThe Dr. Bernard Cobetto Lecture on Contemporary Ethical Issues will return Wednesday, Sept. 28, for its 15th year at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. At this year’s lecture, Michael P. Colaresi, PhD, the William S. Dietrich II Professor of Political Science and Research and the Academic Director for Pitt Cyber, in his role as the Director of the Pitt Disinformation Lab, will share his important work on disinformation and the threat to democracy.

The program will begin at 7 p.m. in Ferguson Theater (Smith Hall) and is part of the campus’s Blue & Gold Celebration: Homecoming 2022. The lecture is free and open to the public. To ensure a seat, please register by Monday, Sept. 26, at

The title of Colaresi’s presentation is The Earth is Flat (On Our Screens): How Democracy is Disrupted by Disinformation and Digital Illusions of Information and Control. In his speaker’s statement, he notes:

The information ecosystems that democratic citizens rely upon have changed remarkably over the last 30 years. However, understanding the social consequences of those changes, from TikTok dances, to iPhone 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.

Colaresi’s work leverages the accelerating availability of computational tools, including machine learning and Bayesian approaches, along with unstructured information, such as from digitized text, to build and improve models of national security secrecy and oversight, international and intrastate violence, and changes in human rights over time. He also develops computational and visual tools that enable domain specialists to work alongside computer scientists to improve specific applications.

He was co-editor of the journal International Interactions from 2014-2019 and was co-recipient of the Best Visualization Award from the Journal of Peace Research in 2017 and the Gosnell Prize for Excellence in Political Methodology from the Methodology section of the American Political Science Association in 2006.

He has been PI or co-PI on four NSF grants and is a research affiliate for the ERC-funded Violence Early Warning Project at the University of Uppsala. His most recent book, Democracy Declassified: The Secrecy Dilemma in National Security (Oxford University Press), explores the effectiveness of legislative oversight, freedom of information laws and the press in resolving the inherent contradiction between domestic accountability and private information in liberal states. Democracy Declassified was shortlisted for the 2015 Conflict Research Society book prize.  He founded and directed the Social Science Data Analytics initiative in his previous position at Michigan State University.

The Dr. Bernard Cobetto Lecture Series was established in 2005 at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg by Bernard Cobetto, MD, and his wife, Ellen. It is typically held each year and focuses on contemporary ethical issues. Dr. Cobetto was 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. Sadly, both Dr. Cobetto and Ellen recently passed, in 2022 and 2020, respectively. They were residents of Greensburg.

Founded in 1963, the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg is a publicly assisted, four-year, liberal arts college in southwestern Pennsylvania. Pitt-Greensburg offers 31 baccalaureate degree programs, including new majors in Nursing, Healthcare Management, Public Policy, and Education, 30 minors, and four certificate programs. With nearly 1,400 students, more than 10,000 alumni, and faculty and staff numbering 260, Pitt-Greensburg provides a vibrant, diverse community that is a dynamic model of a 21st-century liberal arts education. As part of the University of Pittsburgh system, Pitt-Greensburg offers the resources of a world-renowned university combined with the individualized and immersive experiences of a small liberal arts college. Creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit permeate the campus and extend into its many collaborative projects with the Westmoreland County community. Nestled in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Laurel Highlands, the campus is a five-minute drive from uptown and less than an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh.




Publication Date

Monday, September 19, 2022 - 10:00