General

Why is it called the Mercury Project?

The Mercury Project takes its name from the ancient Roman god as well as from NASA’s Mercury Program. Mercury was the Roman god of eloquence, messages, and communication. The Mercury Project is centered on the current role of communication, messaging, and information in both emergency and routine public health. Mercury was also known for his unpredictability, changeability, and sometimes deliberate trickery. These are characteristics of an evolving health crisis as well as information sources and information itself. The idea of a scientific consortium that can be the launchpad for a moonshot harkens back to the NASA team that worked with speed, creativity, and purpose to launch the United States’ first crewed space-flight missions. These were important flights in their own right and were critical to the later success of the Apollo moon landings. We are keenly aware that a key source of misinformation itself links together “mercury” and “vaccines,” leading people to make choices that are often inconsistent with both their personal and the public’s health. We are actively working to break down those associations as part of our quest to disrupt mis- and disinformation and to shine a light on the harms it can do.

Eligibility

Is the Mercury Project funding individuals or teams?

We are looking for research teams that are interdisciplinary and that include a diverse set of researchers and institutions, including researchers and institutions located in the country in which the study is being conducted and that have deep contextual knowledge and connections. We encourage ethical collaborations, including, but not limited to: equitable exchange of information and access to resources, appropriate acknowledgement of individual contributions to collective initiatives, and equal opportunity from research design through implementation, analysis, and dissemination.

Can an individual be on more than one proposal (team)?

Yes. Individual researchers may serve on multiple Mercury Project teams.

Can a single organization or institution submit more than one proposal?

Yes. There is no limit on the number of proposals that a single organization can submit.

Who can apply for a Mercury Project grant?

We welcome applications from researchers from around the globe (except those based at institutions or in countries currently under sanctions from the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control). There are no citizenship requirements.

Note that Research Question 1 (“estimating the causal impacts of mis- and disinformation on online and offline outcomes in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, including health, economic, and/or social outcomes, differential impacts across socio-demographic groups, and quantifying the global costs of those impacts”) can be answered anywhere in the world and that estimating global costs is a key part of the research objective. 

Projects aimed at Research Question 2 (“estimating the causal impacts of online or offline interventions in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean to increase uptake of Covid-19 vaccines and other recommended public health measures by countering mis- and disinformation, including interventions that target the producers or the consumers of mis- and disinformation, or that increase confidence in reliable information”) must examine interventions in the focal regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. While researchers can be based anywhere, we strongly encourage teams to include researchers and institutions located in the country in which the study is being conducted and that have deep contextual knowledge and connections. 

If the primary applicant is a tax-exempt organization, are additional partners in a consortium allowed to be not tax exempt, i.e., for-profit enterprises?

Yes.

Do all (or any) members of the research team need to have doctoral degrees?

No. We are interested in the ability to produce high-quality work rather than in specific degrees.

Am I eligible if I have previously received or currently have a grant with the SSRC?

Yes.


Research Projects

What do you mean by “causal impact,” as mentioned in both key research questions?

By causal impact, we mean estimates of treatment effects that can be derived from thoughtful experimental or quasi-experimental research designs. We welcome and value projects that include a variety of data sources and types to understand process, context, and mechanisms, but projects should be anchored in an experimental or quasi-experimental design.

Are you interested in survey experiments that measure outcomes such as intent-to-vaccinate or intent-to-share information?

We will be giving preference to studies that are able to capture observable online and offline behaviors, not just intentions or self-reports of behaviors. Some teams may find that field experiments deployed on social media platforms allow for the observation of online behaviors of interest; others may find that partnerships with public health agencies or health providers allow for the observation of offline health-related behaviors.

Is the Mercury Project focused on all kinds of mis- and disinformation?

The Mercury Project will fund projects aimed at 1) estimating the causal impacts of mis- and disinformation on online and offline outcomes in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, including health, economic, and/or social outcomes, differential impacts across sociodemographic groups, and quantifying the global costs of those impacts; and 2) estimating the causal impacts of online or offline interventions in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean to increase uptake of Covid-19 vaccines and other recommended public health measures by countering mis- and disinformation, including interventions that target the producers or the consumers of mis- and disinformation, or that increase confidence in reliable information.

What do you mean by online outcomes?

By online outcomes, we generally mean online behaviors including information-seeking, following, liking, posting, and/or sharing behaviors. In some cases, online behaviors could also include care-seeking, including seeking advice or treatments. In general, by ‘online’ platforms, we mean those that require a WiFi or mobile/cellular connection to access.


Research Process

What are the requirements for ethics approvals?

SSRC takes ethical research, including privacy-protection and dignity-promotion, seriously. It will be the researcher’s responsibility to obtain all necessary clearances for conducting research involving human subjects in a manner consistent with ethics and equity. Funded projects that include research involving human subjects will need to secure approval from human subjects committees of the sponsoring institutions before research commences. We encourage teams to think of IRB clearance and the protection of human subjects as a minimum of ethical, inclusive research practice.

What do you mean by privacy-protecting research?

Simply planning to “anonymize” a dataset is no longer understood to be sufficient or even possible. More recent and rigorous techniques, such as those based on differential privacy, can be considered instead. 


Funding

In what currency should we submit the budget?

US Dollars.

Are projects allowed to have other sources of funding?

Yes. We encourage teams to leverage additional funding in order to fully answer the research questions targeted by the Mercury Project, as well as related components that go beyond the scope of the Mercury Project.

Is there really no maximum award amount?

Yes. We encourage teams to propose the amount of funding required to answer their chosen research question thoroughly. We will provide feedback on LOIs if adjustments to the budget are needed.

Are there any rules I should know about the budget?

Proposed budgets should be appropriate to cover project costs, with indirect costs not exceeding 15% of direct costs. Projects with subawardees can distribute direct and indirect costs across institutional partners; the 15% cap on indirect costs applies to the overall budget.

Are there any exclusions to the amount of indirect costs that a lead institution can incur on the subawards?

No.

Can I write in PI summer salaries into the grant?

Yes.


Application Process and Timeline

Is the call for proposals still open?

The SSRC launched the Mercury Project on November 15, 2021. As of February 2022, the call for proposals remains open. We will note on the website when the call is closed. While there is no deadline, since we are receiving, reviewing, and awarding grants on a rolling basis, we encourage teams to submit a letter of inquiry (LOI) sooner rather than later.

Is there really no deadline for submission?

There is no deadline. However, as we are receiving and reviewing submissions and awarding grants on a rolling basis, we suggest submitting sooner rather than later.

How many project teams will you fund?

The total number of teams funded will be determined by the number and kinds of applications that are submitted. We will aim to fund projects addressing both research questions and the four focal regions.

Do applications need to be submitted in English?

Yes. We encourage research projects that look at mis- and disinformation in languages other than English, and will support work in countries and regions where English is not the dominant or among the official languages, but applications must be submitted in English.

Is there a template for the letter of inquiry?

No. For details on letter of inquiry requirements, see the Mercury Project call for proposals.

May I submit my application by email or fax?

No. Applications sent by fax or email will not be accepted. Applicants must use the SSRC’s Online Application Portal to supply the necessary information.

Can I have a staff member review a draft of my proposal before submission?

No but you may email mercury@ssrc.org with queries. In addition, we encourage you to consult The Art of Writing Proposals.

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