COVID-19 Disinformation, Biden's Address, Leaving Afghanistan: RAND Weekly Recap

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April 30, 2021

We discuss Russia and China—superspreaders of malign and subversive information on COVID-19; insights from RAND related to President Biden's congressional address; the potential consequences of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan; firearm injury hospitalizations in America; guidance for a new era in outer space; and disaster recovery in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

A compilation of three images: Spasskaya Tower in Moscow, photo by Сергей Шармаков/Getty Images/iStockphoto; Great Hall of the People in Beijing: Spondylolithesis/Getty Images/iStockphoto; and a COVID-19 virus, image by BlackJack3D/Getty Images/iStockphoto. Design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Images by Cepreй Шармакoв, Spondylolithesis, and BlackJack3D/Getty Images/iStockphoto. Design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Superspreaders of Malign and Subversive Information on COVID-19

Both Russia and China have targeted Americans with malign and subversive information campaigns during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do we know about these operations?

A new RAND study—part of our Countering Truth Decay initiative—examined data from social media and other channels from January 2020 to July 2020. Here's an overview of the findings:

  • Both Russia and China aimed to tarnish America's reputation by making claims about the U.S. pandemic response.
  • Both countries spread information that falsely accused the United States of developing and intentionally spreading the virus.
  • Russia and China had different goals. Russia wanted to divide Americans, ultimately seeking to discredit, weaken, and destabilize the United States. China was focused on elevating its image and protecting its international reputation.

These campaigns could have ongoing implications for the fight against COVID-19 and resulting public health outcomes. As vaccine hesitancy remains high among Americans, public health messaging should account for the potential effects that Russian and Chinese messaging might have on vaccination uptake.

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi behind him, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021, photo by Melina Mara/Reuters

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi behind him, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021

Photo by Melina Mara/Reuters

President Biden's First Address to Congress: Insights from RAND

Wednesday night, in his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Biden discussed a wide range of policy challenges—from addressing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and preventing gun violence to competing with China and investing in infrastructure. To develop effective, evidence-based solutions to these problems, policymakers will need to rely on objective and nonpartisan resources. That's why we've rounded up insights from RAND research, analysis, and expertise.

Soldiers in 3rd Platoon, Combat Company, 1-32 Infantry, return from a patrol near the villages of Tsapre and Aybat, Afghanistan, April 1, 2007, photo by Army Spc. Jon H. Arguello/U.S. Army

Soldiers return from a patrol near the villages of Tsapre and Aybat, Afghanistan, April 1, 2007

Photo by Army Spc. Jon H. Arguello/U.S. Army

Potential Consequences of a U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

President Biden recently announced his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by September 11. According to RAND's James Dobbins, there are good reasons to stay. These include maintaining U.S. credibility, addressing the increased terrorist threat in the region, and the possibility that American troops may have to return to Afghanistan one day under worse conditions. The decision to withdraw unconditionally from an ongoing conflict is “a decision to lose,” says Dobbins.

A person lying in a hospital bed covered by a sheet. Photo by kieferpix / Getty Images

Photo by kieferpix/Getty Images

Firearm Injury Hospitalizations in America

Accurate data on firearm injuries are critical to understanding the full cost and social burden of gun violence in the United States. But there is no single resource that provides this information. That's why RAND researchers have developed a database of firearm injury hospitalizations by state as part of our Gun Policy in America initiative. The tool can help decisionmakers understand whether trends in gun injuries are changing—and if existing efforts to reduce firearm-related harms are working.

Super Typhoon Noru photographed by ISS astronaut Randy Bresnick above the Northwestern Pacific Ocean on August 1, 2017, photo courtesy of NASA

Super Typhoon Noru above the northwestern Pacific Ocean, August 1, 2017

Photo by ISS astronaut Randy Bresnick/NASA

Guidance for a New Era in Space

Outer space used to be dominated by two superpowers. But today, there are more than 60 spacefaring nations, and the private space industry is growing rapidly. This increased activity introduces greater risk of extra-terrestrial collisions and conflict. But the rules and regulations for responsible space behavior haven't kept up. In a new paper, RAND experts recommend key first steps toward improving space governance.

Aerial view of a damaged home in the mountainous area of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, October 9, 2017, photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA

Aerial view of a damaged home in the mountainous area of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, October 9, 2017

Photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA

Disaster Recovery in Puerto Rico: Q&A with Marielena Lara

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center operated by RAND to explore a path toward recovery. RAND senior physician policy researcher Marielena Lara, who grew up on the island, was part of the team that conducted this study. In a new Q&A, she discusses what they learned about the damage and needs across Puerto Rico, obstacles to recovery, and the inequity of disasters.

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